Old Crafts, Young Masters

06 Sep 2011

In Italy, 44 percent of farmers are over 65 years old, while those under 35 make up a tiny 3 percent. As in many countries, urban populations are booming while rural areas subside and while many Italians are the grandchildren of farmers, they have grown up in cities. Often family ties to the land have disappeared and it is rare for young people to return to rural roots, however there has been a resurgence of interest in recent years. With the crisis in the industrial sector and rising unemployment, new generations are overcoming the prejudices that value ‘professional’ occupations over manual work and rediscovering quality food production as they search for sustainable and fulfilling solutions.

Young cheesemakers of Presidia products will be in the spotlight at Cheese this month – Slow Food’s event dedicated to the world of dairy – to discuss some of the difficulties and satisfactions they encounter daily and to celebrate the unique cheeses they produce.

In Italy, the growing number of young Slow Food Presidia producers express shared values for why they’ve chosen this path, starting with a taste for working in the open air and a living in harmony with nature and its seasons. Andrea Signori, for example, traveled around Italy for five years to learn more about small-scale agriculture. He left Molise with two sheep and a horse and ventured up the whole length of the Apennines until he reached Piedmont, where he decided to stay and learn how to make Langhe sheep tuma, a Slow Food Presidium cheese. “Manual work teaches you to take pleasure in the little things,” he says.

However, adopting a lifestyle marked by new rhythms can be difficult. “Our generation has moved away from artisan food crafts. We have to start from scratch and learn from the elderly,” says Camilla Solazzi, 26, a producer from the Marzolina Presidium in Lazio. “But even if you’re overwhelmed by responsibility that your peers don’t have to face, the satisfaction of creating something with your own hands has no comparison.”

According to Edoardo Batassa, 31, a producer from the Sibillini Mountains Pecorino Presidium in the Marche, young people are no longer willing to do these kinds of jobs because of the cultural model they grew up with. “While we quickly get used to new urban habitats, nature is becoming increasingly distant and unknown,” he says. Visitors to his farm sometimes complain about the smell of manure. “But they don’t care about the exhaust fumes that come in their windows while they’re eating!” he says with exasperation.

The stories and experiences of these young cheesemakers and others will be explored in workshops such as “The Next Generation of Italian Cheesemakers,” and “What Future for Herders” during Cheese, taking place in Bra, Italy over September 16-19.

For more information on Cheese, visit
www.cheese.slowfood.com

Extracted from Slowfood magazine no. 51

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