Ark of Taste Cheeses and European Presidia: A Taste Workshop

To date there are over 450 cheeses and dairy products on board the Ark of Taste, coming from every continent, and 102 Presidia dedicated to the world of milk and cheesemaking.

The purpose behind the Ark of Taste is to raise awareness about disappearing products, with a focus on preserving agricultural biodiversity and small–scale, family-based food production systems.

Meanwhile, Slow Food Presidia are groups of producers who are dedicated to reviving the production of artisanal products. Together, the Ark of Taste and Presidia aim to save and promote products and methods that are at risk of disappearing completely – from our cultures and our plates. 

An important part of ensuring that these products are valued and preserved is giving a platform for producers to showcase their work, their products, and their stories. As part of Cheese 2019, Slow Food invited producers to present a small panorama of such cheeses from around Europe—Ukraine, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Spain—including two Presidia.

Hutsul Bryndzia. Photo: Paolo Properzi

CARPATHIAN CHEESE

From the Ukraine, we were introduced to Hutsul Bryndzia, a raw-milk cheese named after the indigenous population that produces it in the high pastures of the Carpathian mountains. In a tradition dating back to the 14th century, bryndzia cheesemaking involves transhumance (moving 10-15 kilometers a day) of a hearty breed of mountain sheep specific to the region. The milk can only be obtained 120 days a year—from May to September—in the upper mountain regions of the Carpathians. The sheep’s diet of plants and herbs unique to this area is reflected in the aromas of the milk, which are then expressed through the cheese itself: a relatively salty, crumbly variety used primarily as a condiment in Ukrainian cuisine, or else wrapped in ravioli with potatoes. While it is still considered a cheese at risk of extinction, it very recently (just a few days ago!) received its PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) certification from the EU¹. It is part of a variety of products that the Ukraine wishes to extend the PGI mark to, including Kherson watermelons, Carpathian honey, Melitopil black cherries, and Yalpug wine.

Pultost. Photo: Paolo Properzi

SOUR MILK FROM NORWAY

From Norway, two producers presented Pultost, a sour milk cheese made from cow’s milk without the use of rennet, but instead using naturally-occuring bacteria and yeasts. Once considered a by-product of cream-making, Pultost has become a Norwegian delicacy in its own right, a testament to the ingenuity of cheesemakers who saw an opportunity in making a soured cheese that could last through the winter months. Typically a dry and crumbly cheese, with a longer fermentation it can become more sticky and tangy, owing its particular flavor and aroma to the addition of salt and caraway seeds. While this cheese used to be made throughout the Nordic countries, only 25 producers remain, concentrated in south-central and south-east Norway. A Slow Food Presidium, the producers today emphasized that it is a threatened local tradition, as less and less producers are making it each year.

Montgomery’s cheddar. Photo: Paolo Properzi

MONTGOMERY’S CHEDDAR

Jamie Montgomery, producer of the eponymously-named Artisanal Somerset cheddar (Slow Food Presidium) from the UK, introduced his raw cow’s milk cheese—a sought-after regional product with a rich, brownish gray rind and an intensely hay-yellow curd. This cheese is both firm and buttery, with balanced flavors of caramelized milk, hazelnut, and bitter herbs. In recounting the story behind Montgomery cheddar, the producer explained that while there were 400 farms in the Somerset region making cheddar, today only four dairies use the traditional technique. Thanks to Slow Food and Presidium support, as well as Cheese 2017, which helped raise interest in this type of cheddar, a new member has recently joined the Presidium. “We are reversing history! We were keen to become involved with Slow Food, who helped us write a protocol for the production of our cheese, helping to distinguish it from large-scale cheddar producers using industrial starters,” as Jamie explained. As someone who is driven to preserve artisanal cheddar production, he is among a handful of producers who are steadfast in their desire to make cheese that “tells a story, tells a journey”.

Tupí. Photo: Paolo Properzi

CATALAN CLAY

From Spain, Catalan producers presented Tupí (Ark of Taste), a traditional fermented cheese made in the Catalonian Pyrenees without the use of selected starters. It is prepared using sheep’s milk, aguardiente (or another strong liquor) and olive oil. Fermented in small clay jars called tupí, it is similar in flavor and texture to Piemontese Bruss (Brös).  Known for its assertive flavor, there are approximately 25 Tupí producers left in Catalonia, but thanks to the Ark of Taste and Cheese 2019 awareness around this unique product is increasing. As one of the producers emphasized: “For this cheese to continue being part of our culture—and cheese culture in general—it’s important that we ensure that more people become aware of it, promote it, talk about it.”

by Julia Dawson

info.eventi@slowfood.it

¹ Although Ukraine is not a member of the EU, the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement means the PGI system is largely shared between the two territories, thus the EU may recognize Ukrainian PGIs and vice versa.

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