Taste, Learn, Discover at Cheese

22 Sep 2011

A tajine is:

a) A North African technique of cooking rice over a low flame.
b) A traditional Moroccan earthenware pot composed of a circular plate and a cone-shaped lid.
c) A dish of pork and vegetables seasoned with cumin, typical of Magreb.

If you guessed option B, you would be one twelfth of your way through to being a proclaimed ‘Master of Food’ in Slow Food’s quiz, held as part of the education line-up during the four days of Cheese which wrapped up on Monday. Education is an integral and characteristic element of all Slow Food events, in the belief that by understanding where our food comes from, how it was produced and by whom, adults and children can learn how to combine pleasure and responsibility in daily choices and appreciate the cultural and social importance of food.

The three 12-question Master of Food quizzes available in the Slow Food space let visitors test their knowledge of gastronomy by answering questions about the world of food. Questions involved more gastronomic aspects of food and cuisine: ‘What is the difference between traditional balsamic vinegar and balsamic vinegar?’ and ‘What is umami?’ to issues that deal with Slow Food’s commitment to linking pleasure with responsibility: ‘What does sustainable fishing mean?” and “How much grain and water is required to produce one kilogram of beef?” For those who weren’t sure about their answer, an official Master of Food teacher was on hand to help.

The quiz was based on Slow Food Italy’s existing Master of Food program, a food education project for adults exploring topics such as beer, cheese, oil and tea. Normally Master of Food courses are organized by Italian convivia, but this weekend, they were also made available at Cheese, with an intensive four-hour course on mozzarella. Participants were introduced to the world of mozzarella – the favorite Italian cheese which went global along with the proliferation of its most notable partner, pizza.

Eric Vassallo, who has been involved with Slow Food for 24 years, led participants through the history, production, varieties, labeling and nutrition. The lesson also included a demonstration of the pulling technique necessary to making a good mozzarella, and was followed by a guided tasting and comparison of industrially and artisanally produced mozzarellas, along with other stretched curd cheeses.

“Slow Food’s taste education aims at educating consumers of all level – starting from the very young,” said Vassallo. “But food education shouldn’t just be limited to children, adults should also have the opportunity. The number of people who are interested in these issues has multiplied in the last few years.”

Both had the opportunity to learn, in fact, as our youngest visitors also joined in learning activities. In the Slow Food space, children from 6-10 became ‘Taste Detectives’, uncovering the clues in the story of who stole the missing cheese (it was the snail). More than 400 children participated in ‘Cheese Bimbi’ (Cheese Kids) mornings, where they learnt how to milk a goat, make pasta, biscuits and pizza all under the guidance of knowledgeable cooks and shepherds. (Check out the photos)

The taste activities for schoolchildren, conceived and organized by Slow Food Education together with local schools, were run by students themselves, adopting the “peer education” method. Instead of passively receiving content, values and experiences from teachers, more than 800 students become active participants in their own education, with full support provided by adult experts. The children were introduced to the world of cheesemaking, getting involved in the process of making cheese from scratch, and tasting and comparing different types of dairy products, all led by other children who had done previous research on the theme.

“We have found that if children are taught something from another child, they are more like to understand it than if a teacher or a ‘superior’ person tells it to them. They feel more involved,” said Simone Saccardi from Slow Food’s Education office. “We don’t want to create a closed educational experience, we want to ignite their curiosity so they will ask questions, seek to discover, and become life-long learners.”

Numerous other educational events were happening over the four days of cheese – workshops to learn how to make cheese and butter, held by the Koiné Sustainable Theatre, Pizza Time, teaching how to prepare and taste traditional and innovative pizzas, workshops on how to taste and recognize good wine and of course, Slow Food’s taste workshops, cheese tastings guided by a panel of experts.

“Education is one of the fundamental pillars of the Slow Food philosophy, which is why at each Slow Food event, there are always educational activities,” said Saccardi. “Our idea is that tangible learning will translate into doing. For many people, our understanding of food had come through advertisements, the internet and marketing, and we have lost touch with its roots. So we aim to bring this experience to people, with the hope of creating a group of consumers that are more knowledgeable and discerning, therefore becoming ‘co-producers’, and giving more value to the origins of food.”

Find out more about Slow Food Education:

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