270,000 Visitors Celebrate Cheese

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There’s no question about it: The Cheese formula works! This year’s international celebration of all things dairy was attended by over 270,000 visitors, up 10% from the record edition of 2013, according to local law enforcement estimates. The streets and squares of Bra were packed with over 300 exhibitors from 23 countries, giving the crowds of visitors ample opportunities for education and entertainment, all inspired by the philosophy behind all of Slow Food’s events: promoting the pleasure of food, based on taste and knowledge.

Strong political messages were launched during this tenth edition, like the quality dairy sector’s loud NO to the use of powdered milk to make cheese. The petition, launched by Slow Food in support of Italian law 138 of April 11, 1974, which the European Union wants repealed by September 29, has been signed by 150,000 people on paper and on Change.org. The Deputy Minister for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, Andrea Olivero, sent an important message during the event’s inauguration, guaranteeing that the Italian government would be staunchly defending the law.

Reflections from professionals and experts from the dairy sector and appeals to institutions from producers and their representatives characterized the event’s many moments of discussion and debate. One of the central themes was soil fertility, under threat not only from overbuilding but also intensive agricultural production, which does not leave the earth time to regenerate. The Confédération Paysanne warned about the risk of “gigantism” afflicting livestock-raising operations in France and beyond, with the spread of huge factory farms with no concern for animal welfare or milk quality. Indeed, at times the milk becomes a by-product, as the main profit comes from excrement used for the production of biogas. Milk quotas also came under fire. Intended to protect small-scale producers, they discouraged production above a legally fixed limit, but ended up distorting the market and have been scrapped without any real transition to an improved model. Without the implementation of more effective regulations, small-scale producers risk being put out of business.

This tenth edition of Cheese closed with some signs of hope for a rosier future, in a year in which the challenges of the sector hit herders and artisan cheesemakers particularly hard. They came from the many young people who the public met in the Taste Workshops and among the market’s exhibitors, proudly presenting the results of their work in Alpine dairies and artisanal creameries, and from those who have chosen to return to the mountains not out of necessity but because they wanted to.

In a paradoxical market in which big businesses want to lower prices to increase profits, and artisans must keep prices higher in order to survive, it is us consumers who make the difference. This explains the importance of the taste education activities, which saw over 1,000 participants—both school pupils and children visiting with their parents—playing at being a farmer for a few hours. The activities organized for deaf children were particularly appreciated. Thanks to a partnership with Italy’s national agency for the deaf they were translated into sign language. Meanwhile, in the brand-new Slow Food House, the association’s space, members were able to hone their tastebuds in a series of workshops based on identifying the sensory differences between artisanal and industrial cheeses.

The exhibitors were very happy with the appreciation they received for their masterpieces, and it seems that the visitors to Cheese truly understood the value of food made with commitment and love, with the responsibility of someone who cares about more than just short-term financial gain and is instead looking to ensure our planet’s future. Slow Food’s work to protect biodiversity is more important than ever before. So alongside the 57 Italian and international Presidia and many Ark of Taste products were other cheeses that cheesemakers and Slow Food members from around the world brought to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, so that they can be added to the Ark of Taste and catalogued as products at risk of extinction.

If Cheese once again demonstrated that it can capture the attention of public opinion, institutions and international food professionals, it was in part thanks to the many sponsors who have long supported the work of those who believe in quality food production, like the event’s Official Partners, the Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano, Lurisia, Pastificio Di Martino and Radeberger Gruppe Italia.

But the biggest thanks must go to the City of Bra and its inhabitants, who, as always, enthusiastically welcomed the exhibitors and visitors for the great celebration, and to the many volunteers who throughout the year are active in local Slow Food convivia and help us during the event to communicate the important work that Slow Food does every day.