The Slow Food festival dedicated to raw milk and natural cheeses returns to Bra, Italy, from September 15-18. The program is online at https://cheese.slowfood.it/en/
Cheese, the largest international event dedicated to raw milk, natural cheeses and artisanal dairy products, returns to the city of Bra, Italy, from September 15-18, 2023. Organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra, the fourteenth edition brings together herders, cheesemakers and enthusiasts. The theme of this year’s edition is The Taste of the Meadows, emphasizing how raw milk from pasture-raised animals are crucial to sustainable food systems.
“Food production, and dairy production specifically, face daily environmental challenges, such as the climate crisis causing a steady loss of biodiversity in soil and breeds, as well as social and economic challenges like the depopulation of rural and mountainous areas, insufficient support for pastoralists, and difficulties in generational turnover. That’s where Slow Food believes agroecology comes in as the solution to address these issues,” comments Francesco Sottile, Slow Food Board member.
“Agroecology is based on the sustainable use of local renewable resources, leveraging the knowledge and priorities of local farmers, employing biodiversity to provide ecosystem services and resilience, and implementing solutions that yield multiple benefits from local to global levels. It also champions local producers, family farming, rural communities, food sovereignty, local and short food supply chains, the diversity of native seeds and breeds, and ensures access to healthy, quality food for all. Moreover, agroecology can be effectively applied to grasslands and the animals that inhabit them. Grasslands have the potential to transform livestock farming from one of the sectors with the greatest environmental impact into an activity that helps mitigate the climate crisis. The key to retaining CO₂ lies in the soil, which has the capacity to sequestrate a quarter of man-made emissions. This capacity increases with greater soil fertility and the richness of vegetation. That’s why soil covered with permanent meadows ranks higher than forests as a solution for carbon sequestration, as it avoids the risk of releasing all the stored carbon in a short period, for example by fire.”
Exhibitors from 14 countries have already confirmed their participation in the event and will be present in the international market. This includes renowned names such as the affineur Jasper Hill Farm from the United States, the Slow Food Presidium of Raw Milk Stichelton from the United Kingdom, producers and selectors from Switzerland, as well as various other European countries. Long-standing exhibitors like Poncelet from Spain, Mons Fromager et Affineurs from France, and the Dutch Slow Food Presidium of Aged Artisanal Gouda will also be present. Italy, with producers from all its regions, holds a place of honor, with numerous representatives having already confirmed their attendance. With Slow Food Presidia we refer to groups of producers committed to preserving and passing on traditional production techniques and crafts.
Local breeds and herders
According to the FAO, there are currently 7745 local breeds, with 26% of them at risk of extinction and inadequate information available for a further 67%. Only 7% of these breeds are considered to be secure. In Europe, half of the breeds that existed at the beginning of the 20th century have already vanished.
Local breeds have developed a biological connection with their respective regions, honed over time through adaptation to specific climatic and environmental factors. This relationship creates optimal conditions for milk and cheese production. It goes beyond just fat and protein percentages, encompassing the aromatic qualities of dairy products.
The transformation from grass to cheese may seem like magic, but it is a completely natural process. The aromas of the herbs are transferred to the milk because the fragrant plant compounds partially dissolve in milk fat. The fats act as a reservoir of aromas, allowing them to permeate the cheese and gradually resurface during maturation and refinement.
Herders take center stage at Cheese, showcasing their often underestimated yet invaluable role. Through their dedicated work, they produce exceptional cheeses while simultaneously safeguarding their lands, maintaining mountain pastures, and caring for the animals that contribute to our biodiversity. Visitors have the opportunity to listen to their stories at the Biodiversity House, sample their products at the Market, and engage in Taste Workshops and Dinner Dates.
The Slow Food network of herders, breeders and cheesemakers is also represented by producers from around the world: from Ukraine to Turkey, from Romania to Norway, from Austria to the United States. With their cheeses and their stories, they bring to light the importance of working together to safeguard biodiversity and natural products.
At Cheese, the Italian and International Market showcases the finest products from cheesemakers, herders, cheesemongers, and affineurs from all corners of the globe. Many of these producers are part of the esteemed Slow Food Presidia network. The cheeses available for purchase, whether crafted from cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk, are exclusively made with raw milk in dairies that prioritize animal welfare. Slow Food believes that natural cheeses—made without laboratory-selected, mass-produced starter cultures controlled by a handful of multinationals—are richer in biodiversity and a more authentic expression of their place of origin. Cheesemakers can preserve the microbial biodiversity in their cheese by using their own milk starter or whey starter made through grafting, thus preserving the bacteria naturally present on their farm, which are profoundly linked to their local area, and which contribute to the aroma of the cheese.
This commitment aligns with the core principles of Slow Food and the longstanding campaign that has defined Cheese since its inception. In addition to an impressive array of cheeses, visitors can also discover other exceptional products such as honey, natural cured meats, vinegars, and condiments at the market.
As always, Cheese provides a remarkable opportunity to expand knowledge, engage in conferences and debates, and savor new culinary offerings. Attendees can participate in Taste Workshops, guided tastings led by specialists and producers, as well as enjoy memorable Dinner Dates curated by international chefs.