Well we’ve been back from Italy about ten days now and finally are thinking about eating full meals again. We ate so much great food during our stay that it was almost too much, almost. Just like the first Terra Madre the second time around was a whirlwind experience but very different. Our first trip to Torino for the inaugural Terra Madre was a leap of faith. Slow Food and its mission were unknown to us. The details of the event were non-existent but the potential seemed large. After six days of travel, jet lag, and short nights we came away aware that not only were the Italians great people but they had started something huge. For two years we have been trying to become more familiar with Slow Food and its’ drive to preserve artisanal food production, small farms, bio diversity and more. Food that is good, clean and fair.
The opportunity to participate in the second Terra Madre was a goal that we worked for. Now we knew the lay of the land and wanted to take full advantage of it in a way we could not understand in 2004. Then Slow Food increased the level of difficulty and potential by adding 1000 chefs from around the world to the nearly 5000 producers from 148 countries. Slow Food’s goal was to increase and improve the networks between producers and chefs, the ingredient providers with the people who turn those ingredients into even more marvelous creations for the “eaters”. What better way to introduce a wider audience to the ideals of Slow Food. We knew immediately what we wanted to do. Our long time customers and friends Ben and Karen Barker from Magnolia Grill in Durham had to go. If we could attend with them, not only could they experience what we had two years prior but we could also hopefully see it through their eyes too. We hoped to walk through the Salone del Gusto and local farmers markets with them. We wanted to introduce them to our host family from 2004 and now good friends. The most incredible part of the first Terra Madre, for us, was the farm and family where we were housed. Not only were we amazed by their production of Piemontese beef and the artisanal meat products they turned it into but fell in love with their family and how they all worked together.
Karen and Ben did attend Terra Madre and our dreams came true but always in the Italian way. We flew in a day early to make sure we were over the jet lag so we could be ready for what was surely to be a busy time. Our 2004 host family offered for us to stay with them and we accepted. The opening ceremonies were once again inspiring even though long, a mix of the United Nations meets the Olympics, lots of fanfare and speeches.
We dove right into the Salone del Gusto intent on exploring it much more thoroughly than we did the last time. Held every two years since 1996 it is inspiring in its size, the quality of its products and its diversity. Part trade show, part educational event. It is Slow Food’s showcase for the work they are doing to save small producers of rare and indigenous foods. If you can get people to eat these foods then the rest of the work is all down hill. Most interesting are the Presidia. Groups of producers of a kind of food (cheese from Castelmagno from mountain pastures to papaccella from Naples) or an endangered variety or breed (white Monreale plums to the white cow of Modena) are working together with Slow Food to have uniform production standards and a marketing strategy. The heritage turkeys we raise are recognized as a Presidia here in the US. We ate an incredible amount of interesting foodstuffs and came away with some new ideas. One of the ideas that we have had from 2004 is to work with Slow Food USA, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Growers’ Choice poultry cooperative to establish a heritage chicken presidia and have our local growers raise, sell and preserve these breeds.
In the Terra Madre spirit of building relationships and networks we spent Friday introducing the Barkers to our Italian friends, Michele and Kati Piovano who have a macellaria and farm, where they sell beef and pork they raise, from the grain through the final cuts. What was to be a quick tour of their farm and shop turned into a six hour full immersion experience. Ben and Karen had aprons on and hands in, making sausages and other products.
Ben making sausages Michele instructing, Karen studying
It continued on to a full scale Italian lunch with many courses which Ben and Karen helped Michele’s mother cook! This family experience continued on Sunday when we all participated in an extended family meal. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and friends all convened. One uncle made the tonnato sauce for the veal that Michele and Kati raised, a cousin made a mushroom dish from mushrooms she collected the day before, Ben made a salad from ingredients he had bought the day before in a local market, Betsy and I did the best we could to eat and visit. Another uncle was a retired market farmer and pepper grower; despite language difficulties he and I were able to share pictures and experiences.
The rest of the conference went the same crazy way, we attended some workshops but spent most of our time connecting with other producers and exposing our Italian friends to the Salone del Gusto. Here just minutes away from Torino are these incredible artisanal food producers and they had never been to the best artisanal food show in the world! We were able to get them into the Salone and experience, through their eyes and taste buds, new and interesting foods. We ended our trip by traveling around the Piedmonte region going to farmers’ markets and sampling the incredible foods of the region and seeing how they were produced. We accomplished most of our objectives and feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in the second edition of Terra Madre!
Ben, Betsy and Karen at farmers’ market