What Did We Learn at Cheese, and What’s Our Homework For Cheese 2019?

“To those who wonder why an association that deals with food culture should promote a campaign on climate change issues, I can say this: It is reckless to be concerned with the quality of a product without asking if that product is connected to environmental damage and labor exploitation,” said Carlo Petrini during yesterday’s launch of Slow Food’s new campaign on climate change, Menu for Change, the first international campaign to highlight the impact of our food choices on the changing climate.

Petrini succintly summarized the required link between “good” and “fair”: There’s no quality without responsibility, a rule which can be applied to all aspects of the food industry. The Menu for Change campaign was launched on the third day of Cheese 2017 with the participation of Kenyan shepherd Tumal Orto Galibe, climatologist Luca Mercalli, researchers Guglielmo Ricciardi and Alessandra Buffa, and marine biologist Silvio Greco.

Slow Food has always stood by high quality productions, raw milk, the biodiversity of breeds, our connection to the land, animal welfare, respect for the landscape and the expertise required to make cheese, showing how all of these elements are essential characteristics of the most interesting and complex cheeses. But it’s evident that quality needs to come with responsibility, and raw milk certainly is a piece of the puzzle.

From the field to the fork, food production is responsible for a third of total greenhouse gas emissions, being one of the major causes of global warming. To that end, our choice for raw milk also has an environmental and political end, since supporting raw milk cheese producers not only means choosing products that taste better, but that also have a lower environmental impact.

This edition of Cheese, the twentieth birthday of the international biennial event, Slow Food took a bold further step by only allowing the sale of raw milk cheeses at the event, in order to demonstrate an alliance with cheese producers who work with raw milk and natural bacteria.

We learned at Cheese that the decision to make the event raw milk was a spot on call in the framework of good, clean and fair: raw milk is inherently alive, carrying in it a vast community of microorganisms that is necessary to make a cheese not only extraordinarily flavorful, but also healthy and unique. We learned thatwooden shelves already contain bacteria that fight unwanted pathogens, something which the stainless steel used in industrial cheesemaking can’t provide.

We learned that the industrial bacterial starter cultures that are used to make cheese aren’t even necessary, yet serve to create uniformity and homogenization of taste and make cheese producers dependent on industry.

We saw many cheesemakers who work in symbiosis with the soil, animals, and microorganisms around them and intuitively obtain a cheese that can solely be made by them. We learned that we need to support them for the sake of their hard work, their delicious cheese, and their potential power in mitigating climate change.

We heard from the many artisan cheesemakers who are out there, in the Balkans, in the far East, in Africa, all of whom are making extraordinary cheeses but lack the finances or struggle with authorities to market their cheeses.

Most importantly, we gave voice to the cheesemakers in the USA, the guests of honor this year, who are working to widen their community of artisan cheesemakers in order to have more rational and reasonable regulations tailored to their needs by both the federal and state governments.

Now we have two years to go until the next Cheese, with high hopes of better regulations in favor of raw milk and more public awareness on the role of industrial starters.

Some homework that all of us can work on in our own countries then: we must do our best to support the producers around us who work in respect not only of the bacterial flora in raw milk and traditional working environments, but also other living communities such as the livestock animals and all the migrant laborers who work in the dairy industry.

It’s a mystery how we have become so disconnected to our sense of taste for good, clean and fair, which we believe we all have within us innately, but we will do our best to help communities across the world to reclaim it.

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