Once upon a time there was cheese: a message from Carlo Petrini

16 September 2021

Friday, September 17 2021 we’ll inaugurate the 13th edition of Cheese, which is now in its 24th year. If I think about the young people who are beginning their studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in these same days, I realize that when Cheese started they weren’t even born.

And so it’s with them in mind, and all of you who have discovered the world of Cheese along the way, that I’d like to retrace our steps: how did we get here?

Cheese 2019

Once upon a time there was a battle for raw milk

It all started in 1997; for the first time the city of Bra was invaded by the stands of cheesemakers who presented the 127 protected-origin European cheeses there were at the time (today there are around 200). The event was about more than just tasting; it hosted a florid, and at the time subversive, debate: the theme of raw milk as an element of gastronomic excellence and defense of biodiversity. Since its dawn Cheese has been more than a buffet for gourmets, like that described by Boccaccio in the Decameron, but space for dialog and political debate that has had an impact on the dairy sector worldwide.

Some of the first American raw milk at Cheese, at the 2003 edition.

An international struggle

From here began a mobilization in the English-speaking world for raw milk cheese, which in the 1990s was pratically inexistent because of hyper-hygienist law which imposed obligatory pasteurization. There was also a strong push for African countries to become producers of cheeses that were not simple imitations of famous European types. The influence of Cheese reached North America, passing through England and then arrived in Africa. Places where today, extraordinary cheeses are being produced with uique flavors, aromas, colors and shapes!

Twenty years of fighting for biodiversity

With raw milk as our North Star, it became a prerequisite for exhibitors wanting to present their wares at Cheese from the 2017 edition onward. In its two decades of life Cheese has informed thousands of people of the complexity of the dairy world. Herders and their millennial practices of ecosystem guardianship are the protagonists. Space has been given to methods of farming, the diets of dairy animals and the problems related to, for example, GMOs in their feed. We’ve traced milk back to its source, reflecting on the life and work of the people and animals in the mountains, and the uniqueness of the pastures.

In 2015 we secured another important victory: through a signature-collecting petition we were able to maintain a national law that bans the use of powdered milk in cheesemaking. In 2019 the focus was on invisible biodiversity, that of the microbial life we find in cheese from the milk, the soil, the aging environment; a community that lives on in dairy products made without the use of industrial ferments.

From invisible biodiversity in 2019 to a more visible form this year: after a year and a half of the pandemic, Cheese 2021 considers the animals – it’s an appeal to rethink our relationship with the other inhabitants of Earth, be they wild animals or the domesticated breeds without which cheese couldn’t exist.

Cheese: a community

I can say that over time Cheese has become a living atlas of dairy biodiversity made of relationships between products, people and places which meet every two years in Bra. The knowledge and awareness that springs from these four days will flow through our network, reaching those who can’t be here with us physically, and stimulate more change. Because this is the power of Cheese: it’s a community that holds the value of these relationships at its core, overcoming obstacles and achieving unexpected results together, through collective effort.

Once upon a time there was Cheese

All the remains is to wish a safe and enjoyable Cheese to all of you, where we may carry forward that dedication, with care for each other, and as ever with joy, which has been the signature of this event since its beginning.

Carlo Petrini