For four days in September, the streets and piazzas of the historic Italian city of Bra will be dedicated to an appreciation of cheese and other dairy products. The event, called Cheese, is a biennial celebration organized by the city of Bra and Slow Food International, and this year will be its 20th anniversary, and the event will be spread over two different venues: Bra and Pollenzo.
The Italian and International Market
To celebrate 20 years since the first-ever Cheese, Slow Food and the City of Bra have this year decided to keep the Market’s exhibition spaces exclusively for raw-milk cheeses—authentic expressions of their place of origin, the livestock breed that produced the milk, the animals’ diet and the cheesemaker’s skill. This decision has not only raised the quality level of the products available for sale, but also inspired enthusiasm and curiosity around the world. The 2017 edition has seen an increase in international exhibitors (with the biggest rise seen in participants from Spain) and the organizers had to close the applications early.
Slow Food sees the triumph of commercially selected starter cultures as the triumph of standardization. If the processing technique is the same, it no longer matters where the milk comes from, nor if the same cheese is made in Italy, Wales, New Zealand or Vermont: the connection to a specific place has gone, because the specific microflora of that area and that dairy have been ousted, wiped out by lab-selected microbial superflora.
The Slow Food network at Cheese 2017 wants to get to the bottom of the subject of starter cultures, discovering alternatives that respect biodiversity and do not standardize taste, and launching a real revolution that can revitalize the natural cheese movement.
The Free Space is the most important innovation at this Cheese: A whole area dedicated to raw-milk cheese free from industrial starter cultures, natural wines free from selected yeasts, cured meats free from nitrates, nitrites and other additives, sourdough bread and pizza and spontaneously fermented Lambic beer.
Slow Food Presidia
The projects that Slow Food uses to protect traditional techniques, native breeds, artisanal foods and rural landscapes will be represented at Cheese 2017 by over 50 cheeses from across Italy and further afield. From Belgium, raw-milk Herve, a historic, soft, washed-rind cheese will be represented. This cheese is now under threat from strict hygiene requirements imposed by AFSCA, the Belgian local health authority. From Cape Verde will come raw-milk goat cheeses from the Planalto Norte, a mountainous, arid and sparsely inhabited area where a small group of herders are clinging on, playing a crucial role in safeguarding the local area. The Presidium for Irish raw-milk cheeses will be representing Ireland with cheeses from 10 artisanal dairies that work with different styles and techniques, but with the shared objective of producing high-quality cheeses from unpasteurized milk.
The selection from Italy includes Farindola pecorino from Abruzzo, uniquely in Italy (and perhaps the world) made using pig’s rennet, which gives the cheese a distinctive fragrance and flavor; Monte Poro pecorino from Calabria, where sheep have long been reared in wild conditions; Çuç di Mont from Friuli Venezia Giulia, made from the summer milk of cows who graze in mountain pastures, their diet supplemented only by local hay or cereals; Raw-milk pecorino from the Maremma in Tuscany, which can be produced in various forms and ages ranging from 20 days to 180 and beyond for the aged and reserve versions. These cheeses are made without the use of commercial starter cultures or any treatment for the rind; and the presidium for mountain Trentingrana, established to promote the careful work of two dairies who produce milk in the mountains then process it pure to obtain a different product from the traditional grana made in Trentino.
The United Kingdom will be represented by artisanal Somerset Cheddar and raw-milk Stichelton, a presidium established around the only cheesemaker still making a version of the historic blue cow’s milk cheese Stilton from raw milk. From Norway will come artisanal geitost from the Sognefjord, a brown cheese with a unique caramelized flavor, and the Netherlands will be represented by aged artisanal Gouda and the recently launched presidium for traditional Boeren Leyden, one of the country’s oldest cheeses, now made on only a handful of farms that still graze their cows on the polders and are preserving a historic cheese at risk of extinction.
From Romania will come Branza de Burduf, made on the slopes of the Bucegi Mountains, some of the highest in the Carpathians. Poland will be represented by Oscypek from the Tatra Mountains, home to the sheep-herding Batza people, and Switzerland will be represented by the Presidia Emmentaler and Sbrinz.
Selezionatori and Affineur Avenue
Running along the Piazza Roma gardens, this street will be hosting affineurs and cheesemongers from Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.
The Great Hall of Cheese and the Enoteca
Here you can taste cheeses from the Italian presidia and hundreds of other specialties from around the world, including France, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom. The United States, the guest country this year, will be represented by 15 different types of cheese. Head to the Enoteca for the perfect pairing for your tasting, chosen from 600 wines selected by Pollenzo’s Wine Bank.
At the Pizza Square you’ll find five master pizzaioli taking turns in front of the oven, while at the Beer Square, 36 independent craft breweries will be pouring their brews. The Gelato Square has been organized by the Compagnia dei Gelatieri, while 15 street food stands and food trucks also offer more eating opportunities.
There will also be conferences, with a packed program featuring big-name speakers from Italy and abroad, the Biodiversity House with its special events and the activities organized by the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Cheese 2017 will be held September 15 to 18, 2017, in Bra, Piedmont, Italy.