As Cheese 2011 came to a close yesterday, organizers were taking a moment to take stock. The biennial event that brings Slow Food's network of artisan dairy producers, cheese mongers, herders and experts to the streets of Bra - a historic cheese aging center for northwestern Italy and home to the association's headquarters - once again attracted hoards of visitors and animated the city from dawn to late.
An estimated 160,000 people came to enjoy the ‘cheese' and to learn more about what Roberto Burdese, Slow Food Italy President, called "the most beautiful world of food"; not a spare seat was to be found at the dozens of Taste Workshops, seminars and dinners that took place; musicians, giant snails, theatrical workshops and curving queues of people waiting for foccacia di recco and other cheesy delights vied for space on the streets.
Among the visitors were many young people and families, with over 1,000 children participating in the Cheese Bimbi (Cheese Kids) activities. One quarter of the people who became members of Slow Food during the event were under 30, showing that the numerous participation this year of young herders and cheesemakers was matched by a presence of young adults with a passion for the work of their contemporaries.
Affineur Sue Lonky, from Atlanta in the United States, commented that "it gives her hope" to see how many interested young people were wandering around the event. "It's been one of the best experiences of my career," she said, adding that the special welcome from Slow Food and the citizens of Bra had made her feel particularly welcome.
Among the hundreds of producers offering tastes and selling thousands upon thousands of kilos of cheese, were representatives of the 71 Slow Food cheese Presidia. Seven of these were in Bra for the first time - new Presidia projects that were officially inaugurated during the event - and were struck by their first experience of Cheese.
"It was a surprise," admitted Ciminà Caciocavallo Presidium producer Pasquale Romeo from Calabria, who sold out their entire stock of 600 kilograms of caciocavallo in the first two days. "It's the first time we've taken part in an event this important, and I won't pretend I'm not very satisfied. We've learned a lot, strengthened relationships, made new contacts. We've been invited to many more events, including some abroad, and the next destination will be Paris. We were particularly struck by the interest shown by visitors. As well as buying our product they also wanted to learn how it was made and hear our story."
It was also the first time at Cheese for Aleksander Dimovski, a producer from the new Mavrovo-Reka Mountain Pasture Cheese Presidium in Macedonia. "I didn't know how incredible this event was," he said. "It's 80 times bigger than I'd imagined. We're very happy to have been able to display our cheese."
Several of the initiatives organized during Cheese 2011, like the open-air concerts, the program of events at the Literary Café (all sold out) and the meetings in the Biodiversity Space, were all used as opportunities for fundraising for Slow Food's Thousand Gardens in Africa project.
Thanks to Cheese, another 20 food gardens will be created.
View the gallery of images of the event on Slow Food's facebook page.
View photogalleries on the below links:
Milks, Crafts, Places: Cheesemakers talk about the milks, crafts and places that make their cheeses unique...
Cheese Tots: photos of the kids taste education event 'Cheese Kids'.
Seven Treasures to Preserve: photogallery and story of the seven new dairy Presidia projects launched today.