Salone Special: Welcome, Guardians of Biodiversity

24 Sep 2012

Almost 2 million of the world’s plant and animal species have been formally described, probably just a fraction of the total number. The health of our environments and the quality of our lives depends on this incredible wealth of biodiversity, yet in recent decades the rate at which species are becoming extinct has risen rapidly. According to entomologist Edward O. Wilson, who coined the term “biodiversity,” an estimated 27,000 species disappear every year.

Since 2003, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity has been protecting and promoting agricultural varieties and food products at risk of extinction, working with 10,000 farmers, fishers and food artisans in over 50 countries. Slow Food is working to fix the problem of poor coordination between various protective initiatives, often too narrowly focused and unable to properly promote the role of small-scale producers.

One of the association’s new projects is the narrative label, which is currently being tried out on selected Presidia. This new type of label gives consumers more exhaustive information than regular labels and highlights the choices made by producers, the ones that truly make the difference between a mediocre and a quality product. The Presidia involved include Monreale White Plums in Sicily and Mondovì Cornmeal Biscuits in Piedmont, Italy; Fadiouth Island Salted Millet Couscous in Senegal; Pozegaca Plum Slatko in Bosnia and Wild Palm Oil in Guinea-Bissau. The narrative labels will be presented at the “Say It on the Label” events organized at the Biodiversity House in the Oval on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2.30 pm.

In addition, a number of new international Presidia will be presented at the 2012 Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. Here is a taster from around the world…

Guinea Bissau – Wild Palm Oil. Throughout Guinea-Bissau, and especially in the northern region of Cacheu where the climate is humid and the soil is sandy, the fruits of wild palm trees are pressed into a dense, orangish-red oil with scents of tomato, fruit and spice. The large bunches of red fruits are harvested by the men, while the women make the oil following a process that can take up to four days.

Guinea Bissau – Farim Salt. Around Farim, along the Cacheu River, local communities catch fish, grow a few vegetables and harvest salt. The river is actually a marine inlet over 100 kilometers long; when the water retreats at low tide and the wind blows from the east, a crust of salt forms on the surface of the ground. The women who collect the salt spread it out on cloths, wash it with salt water and filter it, then dry it in rectangular pans set over a fire.

Mali – Timbuktu and Gao Katta Pasta. Women in Timbuktu and Gao prepare a sophisticated dish for important guests and ceremonies: katta, thin, short threads of pasta made from wheat flour. To make these traditional noodles, the women mix flour and water into a dough then form it into a ball. They tear off small pieces of dough and roll them between two fingers, almost like spinning wool. The pasta threads are left to dry for a day, then toasted in a frying pan until they turn golden brown. Traditionally katta is cooked for a few minutes in a sauce of dried fish, tomato, meat and spices, diluted with water.

Senegal – Fadiouth Island Salted Millet Couscous. The Serer people, the indigenous community that lives on Fadiouth Island, have long been the main growers of the local Sunnà variety of millet. The women use the millet to make an unusual salted couscous. They husk the grain, sift it and wash it in the sea, then grind it and use the flour to make couscous. The couscous is stored in traditional gourds and left to ferment overnight. In the morning they add powdered baobab leaves, which serve as a thickener. The couscous is then cooked and typically served with a sauce made from mangrove flowers, peanuts and meat or shellfish.

Sierra Leone – Kenema Kola Nut. Native to the tropical forests of West Africa, kola belongs to the same family as cacao and still grows wild in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau. The nuts, white or dark red in color, contain oblong fruits, which are cut in two and opened with a machete. They are eaten during ceremonies or to welcome guests. A piece of kola chewed after a meal helps digestion, while the caffeine contained in the fruit improves concentration and reduces hunger. Presidium Kenema Kola Nuts are now being used as an ingredient in a natural cola, a “virtuous” version of the world’s most globalized beverage.

Tunisia – Lansarin and Gaffaya Ancient Durum Wheat Varieties. In northern Tunisia, two ancient varieties of wheat, Mahmoudi and Schili, are still grown at altitudes between 500 and 800 meters in the Lansarin and Gaffaya hills. The wheat is characterized by long straw and glassy amber grains. The wheat is ground into semolina for use in couscous and bread and the dried, crushed grains are steamed to make burghul. Threatened by the introduction of more productive hybrids, these two varieties, grown using traditional techniques and without the use of chemicals, are now at risk of extinction.

Uganda – Luwero Robusta Coffee. Uganda is Africa’s second-largest coffee producer, after Ethiopia. While the Ethiopian highlands are the birthplace of Coffea arabica, Central-East Africa’s equatorial forests are home to Coffea canephora, known as robusta. This species is appreciated around the world in espresso blends, and it represents 85 percent of the coffee produced in Uganda. At altitudes of 1,200 meters, not far from the banks of Lake Victoria, the ancient robusta varieties of Kisansa and Nganga are grown under shade trees, like the banana. In the local culture, coffee has a strong symbolic value: the coffee cherries are not just toasted, but also eaten fresh, in soups or simply chewed for their stimulating properties.

Latin America
Brazil – Licurì. With its bunches containing thousands of green fruits and imposing presence, the licurì palm is an integral part of the landscape of the caatinga, the characteristic ecosystem of northeastern Brazil. Birds love to eat the outer flesh of the fruit, which surrounds a shell which in turn hides a kernel with a very intense coconut-like flavor. The fruits can be eaten unripe or ripe, raw or toasted, or they can be pressed into milk or oil. They are an essential ingredient in traditional Easter dishes, served with fish or chicken, while the milk is used to flavor rice.

Honduras – Camapara Mountain Coffee. The Copán area, in the west of the country near the border with Guatemala and El Salvador, is known for the quality of its mountain coffee. Today the mountain is home to around 500 small-scale coffee growers organized into cooperatives who traditionally cultivate arabica plants of the Typica, Bourbon and Caturra varieties in the shade of native trees at altitudes between 1,200 and 1,600 meters above sea level. They produce a washed coffee that produces a brew with strong aromas of peach and amaretto and notes of fruit and chocolate.

Mexico – Puebla Sierra Norte Native Bees Honey. The Sierra Norte is a mountain chain reaching heights of 2,300 meters, stretching across the northern part of the state of Puebla. The indigenous Nahuat and Totonaca people who live here have developed the “productive forest” system. This centuries-old method allows them to live off wild and domesticated species without cutting down the forest. The native bee Scaptotrigona mexicana has a fundamental role within this system as a pollinator and protector of biodiversity. The collected honey is left to ferment and then used by families not only as a food but also as an essential ingredient for traditional medicine.

Turkey – Siyez Wheat Bulgur. In the farms of Kastamonu (a province in northern Turkey), amongst large forests and the smell of the Black Sea, farmers continue to cultivate the oldest existing type of wheat, Triticum monococcum, or seyez in Turkish. It is grain that differs both from common and durum wheat as it is high in protein and free from gluten, so is tolerated by celiac sufferers. The whole grains are immersed in boiling water for about twenty minutes, then cooled with cold water and spread out to dry in the sun. Once dried, they are ground in a millstone to clean and split the grains. The bulgur is used for many pilaf recipes, cooked in broth and flavoured with butter and chopped onion.

Bulgaria – Meurche. Meurche is one of the rare unsmoked cured meats from the Balkans. In Gorno Draglishte, a small town in the valley that separates the Vidin mountains, the highest in Bulgaria, from the Rila massif, the women would traditionally mix the more noble cuts of the pig—fat, leg and shoulder—with salt, pepper and spices (cumin, dried dill seeds and leaves, coriander). The mixture would be packed into the pig’s bladder and stomach and the resulting sausage would be hung up to dry in the attics of the traditional wooden houses, then aged for up to 16 months in a special wooden container, completely buried in ashes. Today only one producer still regularly prepares meurche.

Switzerland – Furmagin da Cion. Despite its name, Furmagin, which means cheese, is actually a pork pâté typical of the Val Poschiavo. It is made from liver, fresh pork and a number of seasonings including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, marjoram, onion and wine flavored with fresh garlic. The mixture is wrapped in caul fat and baked in the oven for around 40 minutes. The Presidium has revived a small production chain involving a local organic pig farmer, a charcuterie maker who makes the Furmagin, and a butcher in the valley.

Switzerland – Alpziger. Produced in the Fribourg, Bern and Obwalden Alps, Alpziger is a cow’s milk ricotta made from the whey left over after the production of raw milk butter, cream and Sbrinz. Eaten fresh, aged or smoked (especially in Bern), it is also used to fill cakes and breads such as the delicious Zigerkrapfen, little fried pastries filled with Alpziger. The Presidium wants to bring together producers in the historic area and protect the production of this ricotta.

Details of the program and entrance tickets are available here.

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Photo: Timbuktu and Gao Katta Pasta Presidium, by Paola Viesi

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