Cheese 2019 – I am sure that as a fellow cheese lover going to the bi-annual festival “Cheese” in Bra, Italy is for you, as it was for me, a long-held dream. With 300.000 visitors in 2017 and over 400 exhibitors this year it is one of the biggest and also most important cheese festivals in the world.
I finally got to go this year, and for those of you who couldn´t make it I put together some impressions from my visit.
This year´s motto translated to “natural is possible,” addressing the production of raw-milk cheese (other cheeses are not available at the festival anyway) from animal feed, through the variety of animal breeds, to using in-house starters vs. industrial manufactured enzymes.
All of these are pieces in the puzzle that put together the nutritional- and taste profile we experience with the cheeses we buy and eat.
According to the Slow Food website only 7% of the number of local breeds used for food and agriculture are currently not at risk, and since the beginning of the 20th century half of the once existing ones have already gone extinct. But not only lifestock variety diminished also plant variety went down drastically. [for the indepth interested of you here the link to the FAO paper]
For our milk this mounting lack of biodiversity leads to a dramatic drop in the contained bacteria that are essential for cheese production and taste profiles. (We are talking numbers that start at 1 million (!) but drop to 100k and down to even just a few thousand – and this not just for pasteurized milk.)
With the use of modern technology, industrial produced starters manage to already carry the necessary profiles for the produced cheeses, and cheesemakers often turn to these products out of a given necessity; but that in turn unfortunately also leads to a limited taste experience.
Upfront, “Cheese 2019” Slow Food therefore organized workshops for producers to demonstrate successful paths in the use of self-produced starters. This naturally demands even more work and dedication on the part of cheesemakers, but their efforts will be rewarded with an even broader taste experience. So, fingers crossed that many of them will overcome the burdens and follow Slow Food’s call for “natural is possible”!
Now, don´t get intimidated by the serious framing of “Cheese”.
It is a wonderful festival for everyone who loves good food, and especially delicious cheeses. In fact, when one is strolling through the streets of Bra along the market stands and in the exhibition tents the air sometimes seems to contain more cheese scent than oxygen!
The Bra festival is a well-organized event that offers attractions for everyone – Italian and international cheeses, cured meats, and plenty of products such as honey and chutneys. There is a wine bank and even a beer piazza and many workshops, free and upon reservation.
For children, gamespots are on offer and the town is full of little bars and cafés to take a recreational break.
In short – if you missed out this time, follow Gustav´s example and mark your calendar for 2021!
Last but not least and before I let you scroll through even more “Cheese 2019”
– here are some Tips for your future visit:
1st. If not already – become a member of Slow Food. It doesn´t cost much and they are doing a truly great job.
2nd. Book your room WAY in advance. Since Bra is not a big town everything fills up quickly!
But in case you can´t organize your calendar early enough – don’t worry, it will not be the end of the world. The surrounding towns have shuttles organized and since distances are not great you will always somehow get home.
3rd. Check out the event calendar of Cheese Bra and book a workshop or mark one of the cost free events– it gives your day a clear schedule. In case of a taste workshop you will hear cheese makers talk about the flavor, production and history of their cheeses. The cheeses will also be matched with wines that are explained by a sommelier. Expect to have plenty of both and don´t worry if your Italian is lacking. With an ID as a deposit free headphones are handed out to listen to the simultaneous interpreter.
4th. Take some time to sit down with a coffee or glass of wine and study the map to find out where everything is and what you for yourself definitely don´t want to miss. Otherwise you might find yourself running around like a chicken without a head, overwhelmed by the shear endless products on offer.
5th. Don´t worry if you travel with children or dogs. Italians love both and for your little ones “Cheese” has many attractions. Your dog though should be comfortable with large numbers of people and for your serious cheese hunts should probably be left with someone at one of the many Cafés.
6th. No matter what – if you love cheese I guarantee, you will have a great trip!