Every two years, in mid-September, the small town of Bra, in Northern Italy, trades its habitual tranquility for a festive and tasteful invasion, when for a few days its alleys and squares are filled with people, stalls, and the irresistible smell of cheese thanks to Slow Food’s Cheese, Bra.
With its thirty thousand inhabitants and its Baroque churches, the town located in the praised Roero wine area in Piedmont, approximately halfway (and a scarce one-hour drive in both cases) between Turin and Cuneo, Bra is mostly famous for the delicious veal sausage – born out of Jewish tradition and usually eaten raw – and for being the birthplace of Carlo Petrini and his creation, the Slow Food international organization, whose global headquarters are still located here (while the main campus of the world’s first University of Gastronomic Sciences is in the nearby parish of Pollenzo). And, the town is also home to the biennial festival devoted to cheese, organized by Slow Food, alternating with the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto held in Turin.
First held in 1997, the event now in its fourteenth edition is dedicated to raw milk, natural cheeses, and artisanal dairy products, bringing together herders, cheesemakers, and representatives of the Italian and international cheese Presidia (groups of producers committed to preserving and passing on traditional production techniques and crafts, often risking extinction and oblivion), as well as cheese enthusiasts and craft brewers, cooks and street kitchens and food trucks from all over Italy.
What to Expect in 2023
Focused on artisanal production and biodiversity, according to the Slow Food movement’s principles, the 2023 edition’s theme – scheduled for September 15-18 – is The Taste of the Meadows, focusing on the endangered future of this precious habitat and emphasizing the importance of raw milk from pasture-raised animals for sustainable food systems. “Food production, and dairy production specifically, face daily environmental challenges, such as the climate crisis causing a steady loss of biodiversity in soil and breeds, as well as social and economic challenges like the depopulation of rural and mountainous areas, insufficient support for pastoralists, and difficulties in generational turnover. That’s where Slow Food believes agroecology comes in as the solution to address these issues,” comments Francesco Sottile, Slow Food Board member.
Producers and Affineurs
Welcoming exhibitors from 14 countries – including the affineur Jasper Hill Farm (read more about Jasper Hill) from the United States, the Slow Food Presidium of Raw Milk Stichelton (read more about Stichelton and other great holiday cheeses ) from the United Kingdom, and a few aficionados like Poncelet Cheese Bar from Spain, Mons Fromager et Affineurs from France, and the Dutch Slow Food Presidium of Aged Artisanal Gouda .
Herders and Breeds
Cheese 2023 will also showcase herders and local breeds which, developing a biological connection with their regions, create optimal conditions for obtaining nourishing and aromatic milk and cheese. According to the FAO, there are currently 7745 local breeds, with 26% of them at risk of extinction and a much higher percentage that is only scarcely known: in Europe, half of the breeds that existed at the beginning of the 20th century have already vanished. Hence, the invaluable role of herders who endure producing exceptional cheeses while safeguarding their lands, maintaining mountain pastures, and contributing to biodiversity: coming to Bra from all over the world – Ukraine, Turkey, Romania, Norway, Austria, United States, and more, besides Italy – their stories and products will be narrated and sampled at the Biodiversity House (which, in a beautiful courtyard, will host conferences, film screenings and aperitifs on the grass where cheese will meet gelato, natural cured meats, honey and herbal liqueurs) and at the Market, while Taste Workshops and Dinner Dates will be focused on their work.
Events and Tastings
As usual, the program is packed with interesting (free and ticketed) events and chances to taste extraordinary cheese, ranging from the intense Jamar (aged in caves amongst the Italian and Slovenian borders) to the rare Toumin dal mel, made with fresh cow milk by the women of Val Varaita at the foot of the Cervino mountain between Italy and Italy and Switzerland; from the fierce sheep cheeses born in Abruzzo and other Central Italy regions to the wide range of dairy products from Sicily and Sardinia; continuing with the Alpine cheeses of Macedonia, the Sbrinz from the Swiss mountain pastures, the desert goat cheeses from the Negev, the Turkish halva tradition and much more.
And, since no man lives by cheese alone, there will be many pairing events, matching great cheeses – such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Comté – to wine, craft beer, or even grappa and coffee (and cigars). Cheese will be of course also a main protagonist of breakfasts, dinners, and cooking lessons involving Michelin-starred chefs and rural cooks. There will even be – as for every edition – a dedicated “pizza square” where the best Italian pizza ladies will take out of the oven delicious pies and bracing stories, while Italian regional street food and craft beer will be showcased along the streets, courtyards and piazzas of Bra.
Feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities? A good way to orient oneself amid the huge offer of taste and in-depth knowledge study is to book a personal shopper tour, available in Italian and English: an immersive journey through Bra and its alleys, stalls and culinary delights, starting from the University of Gastronomic Sciences stand located in Spreitenbach square, guided by UNISG students sharing stories and details about places, products and producers.
This article originally appeared on Cheese Professor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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