Every two years thousands of cheeses come together for the delight of over 250,000 people in Bra, Italy. For four days, you are invited to snake your way from booth to booth sampling, only breaking to refill your wine glass. Booths contain both household names like Parmigiano-Reggiano and the lesser known specimens like Caciocavallo and Bitto. Naturally being in Italy, most of the space is devoted to the hundreds of cheeses the country has to offer. Even with the evident national pride there is an international tent that spans three blocks. Throughout the four days workshops are also held. Want to learn more about Fontina Cheeses and the effects of alpine grazing on milk? Want to see a person properly break a wheel of Parmigiano? Want to see an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony? Don’t worry, all of your wishes can be granted at the cheese festival. When your palate is suddenly over satiated with dairy fat you can stroll to the beer or wine tent. Just make sure to stop by the street vendors.
Needless to say, the International Slow Cheese Festival is unlike any event that I have attended. My love and I have had the opportunity to visit a few different trade shows, but this one takes the cheesecake. What is so unique is the mix of industry professionals and those that simply just love cheese. In between the baby strollers you can catch glimpses of suits working out details of import. It is two worlds coming together for one all mighty love. Cheese.
We started our adventure getting a lay of the land and setting a game plan. With thousands of cheeses to try in four days you can’t just start out guns blazing. For once, we decided to pace ourselves. Piedmont cheeses in the morning, Puglia in the afternoon with a brief stop by the Kenyan ash yogurt. Of course we would have to be a visit the English Ale booth. Oh and did you see the cannoli’s in the Sicilian section? Ok, so I lied, we didn’t pace ourselves but somehow we survived the four days without reaching for the tums bottle.
In between cheese voyages, we made friends with a sommelier in the enoteca tent. Kevin and him consulted the list of options and hemmed and hawed about the proper tasting progression. They stopped only to debate whether or not Franciacorta can really be called the Champagne of Italy. No consensus was reached, but the debate did result in several glasses of the bubbles. I think I was the true winner.
We also broke up the tent perusing with two different taste workshops. The first was a butter and sparkling wine tasting. Now, to clarify, I chose this workshop simply because…one, I LOVE butter and two, who doesn’t love sparkling wine? If it had been up to my love, he would have picked a more stimulating culinary experience. With that said, it was really fun. Tasting a variety of butter preparations alongside four different sparkling wines has a certain sense of frivolity. The frivolity is increased only by the fact that I was finally next to my husband sitting in the cellar of the castle that is my school.
The second workshop was Comte cheeses with Jura wines. A wonderful set of pairings highlighting the nuances of both products ensued. Underneath a fading fresco we savored, listening to the vision of the chef, the winemaker and the cheese monger. In a bit of cheese high, we stumbled out of the building into the cool night. Fall was finally upon Piedmont. The sweet scent of cheese wafted through the air as we walked hand in hand “home” enjoying the surreal moment. He was in Italy. Like I said, the Slow Cheese Festival was an event unlike any other.