For the second time in a row, Cheese has been inaugurated with the Slow Cheese awards, which recognize the tremendous efforts of individuals to maintain cheesemaking traditions in times of mass-production. This year six outstanding people have been honored, from an Albanian refugee who went on to become an upholder of Sicilian cheesemaking traditions, to a skilled cheesemaker at just 22, to an affineur who has spent his career fighting to protect British cheeses.
To the six winners and the many more out there who are working tirelessly to protect these traditions, we commend and thank you for your work.
Randolph Hodgson, Neal’s Yard Dairy owner (UK)
Randolph Hodgson is the owner of Neal’s Yard Dairy, a company founded in London in 1979 to sell French and Greek cheeses but which soon began its own production. Over the years Randolf has become a renowned personality in Britain’s food scene. In the last few years, faced with the disappearance of traditional raw milk Stilton, along with colleague Joe Schneider, he began producing Stichelton, a Stilton made with raw milk according to its original recipe. Randolf has been an influential figure in preserving and reviving the tastes of British tradition.
Agron Gryka, Slow Food Madonie Provola Presidium producer (Italy)
In 1991 Agron Gryka fled Albania and arrived on Italian shores when he was just 17. Initially working as a waiter and farmhand in Italy, his luck changed when he met a small-scale cattle breeder from the Madonie Mountains in Sicily and began working on the family’s small dairy. Today, the company is certified organic and part of the Slow Food Presidium. With milk exclusively from the farm’s own animals, Agron produces a range of cheeses according to ancient Sicilian traditions.
Sider Sedefchev, Slow Food Karakachan Sheep Presidium breeder (Bulgaria)
Sider Sedefchev was not born a shepherd but became one, following his love for the mountains and his dedication to working with animals, especially endangered domesticated breeds. In his early twenties, Sider left the city with his brother and founded the Center for Rare Breeds and the Semperviva Association. Alongside many projects, he has raised the largest population of Karakachan sheep in the entire Balkan region, now a Slow Food Presidium. Unfortunately, last June a fire destroyed the center and now the Presidium project is in great difficulty.
Matteo Pesenti, Slow Food Orobiche Valleys Traditional Stracchino Presidium producer (Italy)
At the tender age of 22, Matteo Pesenti is already a skilled cheesemaker. Five years ago he started working with his father in the family business in Lombardy, and today is one of the most active producers of the Slow Food Presidium for the traditional stracchino from the Orobiche valleys, a soft cheese made from full-fat milk. With fewer and fewer young people choosing to stay in the mountains and continue family traditions, learn ancient trades and adapt to the pace of nature, Matteo is setting an example we hope will emulated by many more youth to come.
Mary Holbrook, goat cheese producer (UK)
Mary Holbrook has been making cheese for around 30 years; carving out her own space in a traditionally male-dominated sector. First experimenting with goat cheese on her family farm, she later decided to learn more, attending training courses, participating in conferences and visiting producers all over Europe. Today, she produces many types of cheese and works tirelessly to convey her passion for milk and cheesemaking through organizing workshops and hosting visitors on her farm.
Mosè Manni, Slow Food Heritage Bitto Presidium producer (Italy)
Mosè Manni is the icon of the historical Bitto cheese, beginning his career as a young boy working as a cascin (labourer), then a shepherd and finally a cheesemaker. Over the past few years he has taught all the secrets of the trade to his younger family members. Together with the other 13 Slow Food Heritage Bitto Presidium producers, he fights to promote the historical production of Bitto which today is at risk of disappearing. The prize pays homage to all Bitto producers in the historical valleys and their commitment to upholding traditional production practices.