Slow Cheese Award winners inaugurate Cheese 2021

17 September 2021

This year’s Slow Cheese Award winners come from India, France, Albania and Italy

The 13th edition of Cheese was inaugurated in Bra, Italy, this morning, with the announcement of this year’s Slow Cheese Award winners. In attendance were Fabiana Dadone, the Italian Minister for Youth Policy; Marco Protopapa, Councilor for Agriculture of the Piedmont Region; Gianni Fogliato, Mayor of Bra; and Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food.

The Slow Cheese Awards, now at their seventh edition, were presented in the course of the ceremony.

These awards pay tribute to the herders and artisan cheesemakers who refuse the shortcuts offered by modern technology and work with respect for naturalness, tradition and animal welfare. The passion and dedication they demonstrate in their pursuit of quality keeps an extraordinary heritage of traditional skills and landscapes alive. These are small-scale producers who, despite all the hard work, risks and isolation involved, continue to resist. The winners were selected on the basis of their commitment not only to making natural raw-milk cheeses, but especially to fair and animal-friendly farming.

The winners of this year’s Slow Cheese Awards are:

1) Angela Saba, producer of Maremma Raw Milk Pecorino (Tuscany – Italy), Slow Food Presidium

Angela is an example for all those who want to embark on the beautiful and difficult path of farming and cheese production. A particularly difficult road for women and for those who want to produce healthy, good food in harmony with the land. Angela’s father is a Sardinian shepherd, while her mother is from Abruzzo. She grew up in Maremma and took over the farm together with her brother. Today she looks after 300 sheep and 20 goats, carefully selects fodder and pastures and avoids any product that could harm the animals or the land. She only works with raw milk and without the help of chemical ferments, fights for the rights of shepherds and produces extraordinary pecorino.

This prize is dedicated to Agitu Ideo Gudeta, a dairy and livestock producer from an Ethiopian pastoral community that emigrated to Trentino Alto Adige and who was murdered in December 2020.

Angela Saba: A farmer who plays a crucial role in the conservation of local knowledge and traditions. Photo: Slow Food Archive

2) Renato Gortani, producer of Çuç di Mont (Friuli Venezia Giulia – Italy), Slow Food Presidium

An elderly herder and guardian of ancient knowledge who is passing this knowledge on to the next generation

Renato Gortani comes from a long line of herders. He has passed on his knowledge and the tradition of mountain pasture farming through his life’s work. Thanks to him and the young cheesemakers who have followed in his footsteps, the Çuç di Mont, a cow’s milk cheese from Carnia, has been saved.

In his dairy, situated at an altitude of 1583 metres, he raises around eighty alpine brown cows. Every year in May the traditional herding of the animals – which has been practiced in this area for over a thousand years – is a real event for the whole community. He has always been firmly convinced that the animals are the guardians of the environment. Staying on the pastures allows them to feed on the unique alpine biodiversity, which is indispensable for making quality cheese. It is also crucial for their well-being and that of the area. Watch a video about his work:

3) Walter Dragu, producer of  Mishavin, Albania, Slow Food Presidium

A young herder who’s chosen to live in the mountains and continue making cheese the traditional way

Walter has inherited precious knowledge that was in danger of disappearing. Together with his wife Melinda Pepushai they have decided to remain in one of the most remote and impenetrable regions of Europe, setting an example for many other young people. Mishavin is produced exclusively in the summer months. The flocks graze freely in the mountains near two small villages in the Kelmend region, close to the border with Montenegro.

It belongs to the ancient family of sack cheeses and is the result of a very special technique: the curd is cut into pieces, left to rest for ten days and then crumbled by hand and placed in wooden containers. This ancient cheese has survived thanks to the Presidium producers, who have turned it into a source of pride for the whole region.  Walter Dragu took over this important baton from his parents Lucie and Tom. Unlike the rest of the family, who emigrated to the United States, they decided to stay in Albania and work to give their land a future.

4) Daljit Singh – Migrant Breeder (from India to Italy)

Daljit’s story is extraordinary, as is his relationship with animals. When he first arrived in Italy in 1984 he worked for a few years in the Togni circus. Once he had built up his family, he began working on various dairy farms and for some years now he has been based at Fattorie Fiandino in Villafalletto (in the province of Cuneo).

His daily life is marked by the rhythm of the work of caring for the animals. The quality of life of the cows, the milk and the cheeses they produce are conditioned by the relationship between farmer and animal. According to Daljit, it is essential to speak to them gently, to show them affection. Above all, to pray when you are among them and sing them spiritual songs to help them relax and enrich the their habitat with positive energy. Every Sikh bears witness to his faith through his behavior and brings peace and spirituality to every moment of his life, even on a daily basis, in his relationship with the sacred animals.

Daljit Singh: A foreign producer practicing the art of cheeemaking in Italy. Photo: Alessandro Vargiu

5) François Borel – Goat herder and producer of Brousse du Rove (France)

François Borel, together with Bernard Borel, Luc Falcot and the other farmers of the ‘Groupement des producteurs de la Brousse du Rove’ has been preserving the indigenous Rove goat breed for years. They raise it on pasture all year round in the Bouches-du-Rhône region of Provence.

Their milk is used to make brousse, a historic dairy product made through lactic coagulation and eaten fresh. The Rove goat is an ancient, rustic breed with arched horns, able to withstand the heat of the Mediterranean summer and the cold of the winter. It feeds on the shrubs and leaves of the garrigue, and is a fundamental element in managing the land. Years ago thhe Rove goat’s cheese was devalued through mass production using low-quality industrial milk, sometimes even cow’s milk.

The determination of the Groupement’s farmers to restore dignity to pastoral practices, to the Rove breed, of which they are passionate guardians, and to the brousse, led to the recognition of the Presidium in 2007. A PDO was established in 2020, supported by a specification that is exemplary for its rigor and respect for tradition.

Brousse du Rove is now the smallest cheese PDO in France.

François Borel. A farmer working to safeguard a local breed at risk of extinction. Photo: Valeria Necchio

6) Paolo Ciapparelli – Historic Rebel Cheese and  Furmàcc del Féen (Lombardy – Italy), Slow Food Presidia

Paolo Ciapparelli is one of the symbols of the most passionate dairy activism. He is not just a cheese producer or a farmer, but for the alpine farmers of the Bitto Valleys he is much more. Thanks to his energy, today everyone knows the Historic Rebel Cheese and their battle to restore value to the illustrious cheese-making history of this part of the Alps. “We were considered subversive because we wanted the cows to eat grass”. This encapsulates not only the meaning of his life’s commitment but also the raison d’être of the Slow Food Cheese Presidia.

No silage, just the grass of mountain pastures. No ferments, just artisan knowledge. This is all that is needed to produce one of the most extraordinary cheeses in the world. Thanks to Paolo, the producers have come together and shared the management of a collective maturing process and together they sell their summer cheese and their winter production, Furmàcc del Féen, both Slow Food Presidia. Mountain Pasture Maschèrpa, a ricotta cheese obtained by processing the whey from previous cheese-making processes, is now also on the tables of renowned restaurants and present on the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

Paolo Ciapparelli: An activist who fights for the values of Slow Cheese. Photo: Slow Food Archive

Cover image by Valerie Ganio Vecchiolino