Respecting the Big Cheese: The 2013 Slow Food Cheese Conference

Brooke Newberry
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Bra – a sleepy, foggy town in Northern Italy in the Piemonte region, known for its elite wines (ahem, Barolo anyone?) and high quality food – will be smothered in cheese from September 20-23 this year. The Bra Cheese Conference and Festival is Slow Food’s biennial event devoted to just the best thing ever: cheese. No, it’s not a complete gorge-all; it’s more of an in-depth cultivation of education and discussion. The conference is meant to make attendees (and eventually, the rest of the world) actually think about the cheese, why it exists, how it was made, and why it all matters – before they consume the thousands of stinky beasts available for sampling. Hundreds of artisanal cheeses and their respective producers from across the world are brought together for this three-day convention. The focus, as with most Slow Food endeavors, is on the diversification and preservation of artisanal production methods, and the promotion of sustainable cheese consumption.

Bra is also where the Slow Food Movement was born, and has since laid down a university foundation – The University of Gastronomic Sciences, to propel the movement’s ethical food morals and values in education form. The aspiration of the university coincides with the Slow Food Movement in its entirety and concentrates largely on the study of food practices, regional producers and their products that are under the threat of homogenization.

38 taste workshops are among the dairy conference’s offerings, and embracements are scheduled on topics covering everything from South African raw milk cheese production to applying correct cheese vocabulary. A series of “milk workshops” will include seminars on the role/importance of pastures as a resource to be protected, the welfare of farm animals, and a look inside artificial starter cultures that are increasingly being used in cheesemaking. Alongside the schooling and conferencing comes the awesomely inescapable gamut of delicious dinners and wine pairings put on by highly recognized Italian chefs, restaurateurs and adored family wineries.

Why is this cheese mecca awesome and important? Think of cheese as an educational tool on culture, heritage, science and biodiversity. If varieties are lost, culture is lost. And where would we be without the compelling story of cheese?  

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