Monday, January 12, 2015

Exploring the cheeses of the world: Attending Terra Madre & Salone del Gusto October 2014

This past fall, I had the distinct honor of being chosen as one of just 240 US delegates to attend Slow Food’s 2014 Terra Madre & Salone del Gusto global food conference in Turin, Italy.

Delegates from over 130 countries came together to talk about food and demonstrate their cultural traditions of agriculture, fishing, preserving, and cooking food, and to share their food movement success stories, challenges and lessons learned.

I sampled so many great foods from all over the world and, of course, coming from a cheese maker’s perspective, I naturally gravitated toward all the cheeses.

Shawn Saindon with Parmigiano-Reggiano

I attended many cheese-related classes, tastings and talks hosted by cheese makers and purveyors from different regions of the world. Many of the cheeses discussed were officially inducted into The Ark of Taste, a Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. 

This project was created to draw attention to certain foods and their possible extinction within the next few generations either through modernization, lost traditions or through tightening health and safety regulations. 

These classes, as well as the entire Terra Madre conference, gave me an amazing opportunity to speak directly with different food producers and to get a real sense of the importance of biodiversity not just within the cheese making world but within the overall food system as a whole. 

For more information on the Ark of Taste project, visit

So, I thought I would share with you a little about some of the cheeses I experienced. The following include some cheeses that I never really knew existed if not for the Ark of Taste project and the Slow Food conference.

Turkmen Fringe Cheese
An interesting cheese that I completely fell in love with is called Turkmen Fringe Cheese. I stumbled upon this fantastic cheese at one of the Slow Food tasting classes. This particular class was called The Cheeses and Wines of Turkey.
Turkmen Fringe Cheese
Its origins come from the cities of Kars and Ardahan in the East Anatolia region of Turkey and dates back as far as the Ottoman period.

Turkmen Fringe Cheese is normally made with non-fat cow’s milk, although sometimes sheep’s milk is used. The milk is boiled with the whey from the previous batch of cheese, acting as rennet. It is then boiled until the milk curdles and then cooled down. The curds are kneaded and stretched to create their string-like shape then stretched and rubbed continuously with salt until it looks like spaghetti. It can be eaten fresh or preserved for 1-2 years.

Older traditions have the cheese pressed in animal skins and buried underground to help with the development of molds

I found this cheese to be fantastic! It is odorless and dry with a consistency of straw but when you eat it, it melts in your mouth instantly into a sort of a milky mozzarella consistency. You can really taste the milk, which is very important to me. Some people in the class found the cheese to be too salty, due to the brine, but I found it to be a good balance of flavors.

I could totally see kids loving Turkmen Fringe Cheese as it is a good play on the concept of string cheese. 

It surely was one of my favorite discoveries on this trip and leaves me completely intrigued with the cheeses of Turkey.

Marayn de Bartassac Cheeses –Southwest France

Lovers of an extremely strong, spicy and earthy flavor will love appreciate these cheeses.
At the Terra Madre side of the food conference, this booth was one of the more popular of the cheese related booths, mostly because of the huge and gorgeous display of these ancient looking pucks of French cheeses. 

They seriously were the cheese rock stars of the conference.

I’m talking about the cheeses of the micro-dairy Marayn de Bartassac from the Gascony area of France.

They are based on ancient recipes that date as far back as 1300 A.D., revived by philosopher and cheese guru, Hugh Lataste, along with his wife and daughter.

I was told that there are around fifty varieties of this cheese made from cow, sheep or goat milk. Most are a hard cheeses wrapped in grape leafs and/or rubbed with spices and black pepper.

They were absolutely beautiful and the recipes to make them are rich with traditions and history.

 In all honesty, I found these a bit too strong for my palate, since I tend to have a reaction to some spicy, peppery foods, but I really appreciated the opportunity to try something so different than any cheese I have ever encountered before.

Finally, you couldn’t be at Salone Del Gusto and Terra Madre, or in Italy, for that matter, without tasting some of the Italian signature cheeses. 

Many great cheeses of the region were in attendance and I was constantly in a state of awe while being amongst them, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Mozzarella di Bufala (made with the milk from water buffalo) and Pecorino. 

But the handmade, stretched cheese, Caciocavallo, was one I had a lot of fun discovering and it was everywhere!
Literally translated, Caciocavallo means “cheese on horseback” and can be seen hanging, with a rope around its neck, from a wooden dowel to drain and dry.  

 It hails from southern Italy and is usually made from cow’s milk but I also tried some made from buffalo and sheep’s milk.
It’s made similar to the way you would make and shape mozzarella but it is set in a brine for a few days after being shaped. Then a string is tied around it and hung up to dry and left to age for about two months before consuming.

It has a rich and buttery flavor with a smooth texture. I especially loved how I really could taste the most important part of the cheese - the milk! 

There were many smoked varieties, as well, and some even were embedded with a ‘gem’.

These special treats are called Riavulilli (little devil). While this cheese is being shaped, the cheese maker inserts a black olive, a piece of citrus fruit or even a piece of cured pepperoni into the stretched curd. The cheese's head is then formed and tied, usually, with a piece of vegetable fiber rope called raffia. 

Final Thoughts
There were so many amazing offerings presented at Terra Madre & Salone Del Gusto that these few cheeses I mentioned in this post were only the tip of the ice berg. 

It was inspiring to me to see such cheese making traditions continuing on to future generations. It was also an eye opening experience for me to see the important role that diversity plays in cheese making and our food system as a whole.
Finally, I would like to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone who have supported me and helped me to attend this important, educational conference. This trip couldn’t have happened without you. Thank you!

#salonedelgusto #newenglandcheesemaking #SlowfoodUSA #slowfoodinternational #winterhillfarm #portlandME

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