It was twenty years ago when Cheese was held for the very first time in Bra, the small town that is home to Slow Food. Cheese grew and grew, becoming the largest event in the world dedicated to extraordinary artisan cheese and cheesemakers.
Each past edition has featured cheeses that Slow Food has discovered, promoted and worked to save. Here are eleven of the most important, which have given life and strength to the Slow Cheese campaign over the last twenty years:
The producers’ consortium was so satisfied and happy about the first edition of Cheese, that they brought a gigantic wheel of Comté to show gratitude to Slow Food, which became the symbol of the first edition of Cheese.
Comté is made in the Burgundy region of eastern France, and is well-known for its diversity: no two wheels ever taste the same, thanks to its production with raw milk in village-based fruitières each with their environment and particularities.
By this year, the “Manifesto in Defense of Raw Milk Cheeses” had been drawn up, and the international Slow Cheese campaign was launched. It was also in 1999 that Montébore cheese was rediscovered, and it became the celebratory symbol of Cheese 1999 with its wedding-cake shape.
Montébore’s production suffered a fast decline following industrialization, when people started leaving the countryside for the cities. The production stopped almost entirely thirty years ago, until 1999, when a young man named Roberto Grattone tracked the last producer down. She was an 80-year old woman named Carolina Bracco, and she taught Roberto how to make authentic Montébore.
Slow Food then started the Montébore Presidium to safeguard this cheese, and keeping its production alive up to the present day.
2001, Historic Rebel
The Bitto Storico (now known as Historic Rebel) put up a real fight to stay original, against a standardized PDO which obliged additives and non-grass feed for cows. According to Piero Sardo, president of Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, the Bitto Storico Presidium is an excellent example of “heroic cheesemaking.”
True Bitto Storico, the Historic Rebel, never uses additives, bacteria or special feeds. There are only twelve producers who make real Bitto Storico and they are all situated in one valley named after the Bitto River in Lombardy. Aged Historic Rebel cheese is truly extraordinary, and after six or seven years of aging (sometimes even more) it becomes a rare delight to be savored on its own.
The Historic Rebel Presidium was born to valorize this cheese and was the star of the show at Cheese 2001.
The herders of the Tatra mountains have been making Oscypek since the 14th century. Yet, because it is made of raw milk, it has been illegal to sell this cheese in Poland since the 1950s, as the food shops filled up with imported cheeses made with pasteurized milk and synthetic smoke.
Jacek Szklarek, president of Slow Food Poland, went on a journey around the Tatra mountains to taste all the Oscypek samples he could find. He selected the five best and established the proper methods for making this cheese, founding the Oscypek Presidium. That year, the herders wanted to exhibit Oscypek at Salone del Gusto. When their efforts were blocked by Polish authorities, they hid their cheeses in their bags and went on a two-day bus ride to Turin. It was the right decision; the cheese received sold out in two days.
The event gave hope to the herders who had been struggling with Polish authorities and regulatory hurdles in the country, and strengthened the ties between Poland and the Slow Cheese campaign.
2005, Robiola di Roccaverano
Robiola di Roccaverano was one of the stars of Cheese 2005, which focused on goat milk cheeses. The Roccaverano Presidium includes farmers who use goat milk from the Roccaverano local goat breed, which has declined in numbers a great deal over the years, as they have been replaced by high-yielding breeds.
The revival of the authentic Robiola at Cheese in 2005 has helped to spread more awareness and lead more initiatives to safeguard the Roccaverano goats.
2007, Tcherni Vit
Ten years in, and Cheese’s international character grows as the event expands to include Eastern Europe. Cheeses from Romania and Bulgaria were featured for the very first time, particularly covering their rare traditional farming traditions. That year, the green cheese Tcherni Vit from Bulgaria received great interest from the public.
Tcherni Vit Presidium was established when the last producer, who was in his eighties, could no longer continue making it, putting this green cheese at grave risk of extinction. The Presidium now has a production protocol and defines the process right from the breeding of the sheep up to the aging process, to guarantee traceability and high quality.
2009, Pokot Ash Yogurt
For the first time, African shepherds had their own stand at Cheese with the herders and producers of the Pokot Ash Yogurt Presidium from Kenya’s Terzoi community. This particular yogurt aromatized with the ashes of the native cromwo tree got a lot of attention at the Cheese market.
The community’s presence was also an occasion for discussions on important subjects like nomad pastoralism, the traditional knowledge of ethnic indigenous groups and the ongoing drought problems in Africa. Pokot Ash Yogurt has continued to be a regular presence at Cheese, and a fan favorite.
Cheese 2011 turned the spotlight onto the three pillars on which dairy quality rests: milks, crafts and places. As a country that has long protected raw milk cheese production and treasured regional diversity, France was the special guest of Cheese 2011 with a rich selection of Auvergne Salers cheeses.
Auvergne is the heart of French cheese production, with five PDO cheeses and two native dairy cows, Aubrac and Salers. The Presidium was established to promote the Salers breed and the cheeses made from its raw milk, valorizing the work of the few artisan producers that remain.
2013, Raw Milk Stilton (Stichelton)
2013 featured a special focus on cheeses from the British Isles, in particular the special raw milk Stilton. The story of Stilton and the only surviving raw milk form, Stichelton is one of rules, rebellion and revolution.
Stilton is one of the oldest cheeses in England, but PDOs have enforced the use of pasteurized milk to make it. Faced with the disappearance of traditional raw milk Stilton, Randolph Hodgson couldn’t help but step in and, together with Joe Schneider, began the production of Stichelton, bringing back true Stilton made according to its original recipe. As Joe doesn’t pasteurize the milk, he can’t call it Stilton, so he renamed it as Stichelton after the ancient name of the Stilton village.
2015, Serra de Estrela
The main theme in 2015 was “A Journey to Mountain Pastures”, and the host country was Spain, with the Great Hall of Cheeses featuring 200 types of Spanish cheese representing the country’s rich spectrum of dairy biodiversity.
However, there were other wonders from the Iberian peninsula on display, particularly the Serra de Estrela cheese from Portugal. A delightful discovery for many who came to Cheese, Serra da Estrela is a creamy raw milk cheese made with the milk of local sheep breeds, salt and cardoon rennet (Cynara cardunculus) extract. Due to priorities given to productive non-native sheep breeds, intensive breeding systems and the decline in pastoralism, the future of this cheese remains uncertain.
20th Year and American Raw Milk Cheeses
In the mid-19th century, with the invention of pasteurization and the rise of industrial production, most small-scale raw milk cheeses disappeared in the United States.
This year, the USA is the guest country with a focus on the state of raw milk. The American raw milk Presidium was established to support the few raw milk cheesemakers in the country, uniting 24 producers who have the same aim: improving raw milk cheeses and creating a strong network between the producers.
The Raw in the USA conference on September 16th at 10:30 am will cover the current challenges of the raw milk movement in the USA and the regulations imposed by State and Federal law.
To taste these American cheeses yourself, we recommend a visit to the Great Hall of Cheese on via Garibaldi, where many American cheeses will be exhibited. Another place to be is the Taste Workshop on the 17th September where some of those raw milk cheeses will be paired with artisanal American beers.
Related reads on Oscypek:
Related reads on the Historic Rebel:
Related reads on Stichelton:
Cheese is an event organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra. To discover what we do, visit slowfood.com.