Slow Food celebrates herders and cheesemakers who respect nature and animals, from Italy to Ukraine and North Macedonia
The fourteenth edition of Cheese, the largest international event dedicated to raw milk, natural cheeses and artisanal dairy products organized by Slow Food and Città di Bra, has just been inaugurated in Bra (Italy) by Francesco Lollobrigida, Minister of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry, Alberto Cirio, President of the Piedmont Region, Gianni Fogliato, Mayor of Bra, Barbara Nappini, President of Slow Food Italy, Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food.
This edition, which lasts until Monday 18, brings together herders, cheesemakers and enthusiasts, united under the claim The Taste of the Meadows, emphasizing how raw milk from pasture-raised animals is crucial to sustainable food systems.
The Slow Cheese Awards, now at their eighth edition, were presented in the course of the ceremony. The awards pay tribute to the herders and artisan cheesemakers who work with respect for naturalness, tradition and animal welfare. The passion and dedication they demonstrate in their pursuit of quality keeps an extraordinary heritage of traditional skills and landscapes alive. These are small-scale producers who, despite all the hard work, risks and isolation involved, continue to resist. The winners were selected on the basis of their commitment not only to making natural raw-milk cheeses, but especially to fair and animal-friendly farming.
The winners of this year’s Slow Cheese Awards are:
David Nedelkovski – North Macedonia
David is just over 30, but already ten years ago left Skopje and moved to the small village of Rastak, at the foot of the Karadak mountains, where he created the Kozi Mleko Planina farm together with his family. Here David raises alpine and domestic Balkan goats, calling himself a “Cossack,” or “free man”. David produces several types of fresh or aged cheese, all hard or semi-hard. Together with his neighbors, they started some important projects to restore biodiversity and the mountains they live in. When they decided to move to the mountains, the project was to produce milk and cheese and go back to town, but the life in nature captured their hearts. “I go more and more infrequently to Skopje, I love living here surrounded by family and my animals”. Looking at the future he admits he has too many plans! First of all he would like to raise awareness on the importance of raw milk products and animal welfare, or on the relationship between farmers and veterinarians. But his main priority is that “goats are happy”.
Tetyana Stramnova – Ukraine
Tetyana Stramnova started as interior designer in Donetsk and opened her first farm when she got her first child, starting to raise quails. When Russians arrived in the region, she and her family had to leave, finally arriving in Muzikyvka, in the Kherson region. There, they tried to restore the poultry farming but the business failed. “Actually my children chose Muzikyvka as our place to be as they felt it was home at first sight”. In the end, Tetyana decided to do something new: she raised goats, learned how to make cheese, created the Amalthea Goat farm, on the name of her first goat, and started conducting excursions for children with disabilities, at the same time working to protect the local Ukrainian short-eared goats breed. On the eve of the full-scale invasion, the village council allocated her a plot of land for the construction of a cheese factory. The woman would have to find money for premises and equipment. Instead, all these months she tried to protect from the Russians what she managed to create. And after the de-occupation of Muzikyvka, everything starts again almost anew. “My children are affected by autism spectrum disorder and teachers made me notice that they improved a lot, feeling more confident and positive. That’s why I decided to start organizing activities and developed a methodology for teaching children with autism”. All of this while trying to resist and defend their land and their lives from the continuous attacks, constantly living under stress and fear. “My main motivation is children. I have to leave something for them, that’s why I started again and again. We want to get it all back on track. We have to move on with our life”.
Giampaolo Gaiarin – Italy
Teaching food technology, Giampaolo makes his skills available to young people and advances a precise idea of cheese. According to him, cheese made with raw milk without the addition of selected ferments is the most respectful and authentic form of cheesemaking: the only one capable of restoring the aromas and specificities of each milk, each barn, each pasture. And he doesn’t just explain it in the classroom, but makes daily efforts to demonstrate in the field that it is possible to produce natural cheese, doing cheesemaking trials together with producers, helping interested cheesemakers to switch from purchased ferments to grafted milk, even inventing a small home fermenter to facilitate their work. In his life, he has put his experience and expertise at the service of the cause of natural cheese: made from raw milk and without the addition of selected ferments, working alongside small-scale producers, in Italy and around the world, training generations of cheesemakers through teaching.
Marco Villa – Italy
A veterinarian, he has been able to create a supportive community of breeders, motivated young people and given an opportunity for redemption to a difficult Ligurian mountain area at risk of depopulation. Thanks to his passion and great ability to share, he has helped save and protect the Cabannina breed, a Slow Food Presidium, now the protagonist of a great collective and solidarity-based work of valorization. From the Val d’Aveto, a mountainous, difficult area at risk of depopulation, located between the metropolitan city of Genoa and the province of Piacenza, the Cabannina has been reborn, becoming an emblem of how an ancient breed, seemingly unsuitable for modern animal husbandry because it is less productive than commercial breeds, is actually a key element in guaranteeing new opportunities for the highlands and a hope for those who want to breed with respect and in harmony with nature.
Ekaterina Prichodko and Eros Scarafoni – Ukraine/Italy
Ekaterina Prichodko, a cheesemaker and veterinarian, before the war was the owner of a small farm in the Buča area near Kiev, where she raised goats and made cheese. Because of the bombing, she decided to leave together with her three children, three dogs and a cat. Arriving in Pisa, she met Eros Scarafoni, a farmer and producer in southern Marche, who immediately agreed to take her in and include her in the business. Two new cheeses are also born from their collaboration. Together they represent an example of solidarity, collaboration, love for the land, for animals, and for cheese made well. Above all, because we testify that brotherhood can help overcome the tragedy of war and generate hope for the future.
Filiberto and Leonardo Vaira – Italy
Since 2016 Filiberto and Leonardo Vaira have led a farm that produces a wide variety of products. From May to October, Filiberto and Leonardo devote themselves to high-altitude pastures, where Bruna Alpina cows graze between 1,400 and 2,000 meters, but also to the permanent raising of pigs and goats, then fruit and beekeeping.
Dairy farming allows for the production of exquisite alpine tomes such as Padotra, a large-sized fatty alpine cheese made with raw milk from original Alpine Brown cows, but also delicious goat tomini, fresh ricotta and butter. They stand out for their commitment, passion and love for their land as they have chosen to devote themselves to the ancient profession of cheesemaker in the Vogna Valley, among pristine mountain pastures, plateaus rich in herbs and flowers, forests, lakes and pure streams.
Michele Totaro – Italy
Michele Totaro is a young breeder and cheesemaker who lives and works in Puglia, where his family has raised Podolica cows for four generations. Michele knows his animals one by one, cares for them, takes them to pasture, and processes their milk: “I was born to be a shepherd.” The Podolica is a breed to be raised in the wild. It offers flavorful, healthy meat rich in minerals, and its milk is used to produce caciocavalli and ricotta cheese with unique flavors. Due to some less than “modern” characteristics such as lower milk production and more tenacious meat, it is becoming increasingly scarce today. Many breeders have begun to crossbreed it, preferring more commercial breeds. The risk is that, along with the breed, centuries of history made up of transhumance and exchange, of mutual give and take between man and nature, will be lost. But Michele goes against the trend: in his early twenties, he decided to open his own farm, U’ Sculer, which today has about fifty Podolica cows. And on social media he tells, like all his peers, about his greatest passions. Between selfies with the cows, live caci and transhumance festivals, the smile is always plastered on his face, given by the joy of being doing good for his territory: “we need to go back to our roots, take back our history and enhance the native breeds.”
Vito Canio Abbate – Italy
Vito Canio Abbate is a breeder and dairyman from Basilicata who, after studying Animal Production Technology, devoted himself full-time to working on the farm, where he began to select animals, contrary to the trend of the time that favored the introduction of foreign breeds. He reacts to the drastic decrease in the number of Lucanian gray goats, an animal that was once widespread in the Potentino area. Breeding this breed is difficult because it grazes in marginal areas such as forests and arboreal pastures feeding on forage and shrub essences. Thanks to his efforts, a breed registry was established contributing to the recovery of the number of animals raised. In addition to the Lucanian gray goat, Canio raises Podolica cows and produces cacioricotta, caciocavallo Podolico, as well as sheep and goats. With the meat of Lucanian black pigs he produces cured meats. He became, in a short time and although very young, a point of reference in the recovery of local breeds. A tireless and responsible breeder and cheesemaker, the focus of his days is work and family: “I am the expression of a family. My goal in the medium term is to maintain what my parents have built. In the long term, however, I dream of one day being able to stop and stay on the farm, in nature, with my animals.”
Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra, with the support of the Piedmont Region and numerous entities that believe in the project, starting with Main Partners BBBell, BPER Banca, Confartigianato Cuneo, eViso, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pastificio Di Martino, Quality Beer Academy, Reale Mutua. In Kind Partners Liebherr, Bormioli Luigi and Bormioli Rocco, Acqua S. Bernardo. Green partners are Palm Green Pallet, Pool Pack and Ricrea. Area Partners: Baratti&Milano and Pepino. Media partner is TabUi. The event is realized with contributions from Fondazione CRC and Fondazione CRT, ATL Langhe Monferrato Roero, Cuneo Chamber of Commerce and Ascom Bra. Cultural partner is the Central Institute for Intangible Heritage.