The event, which celebrates its twentieth birthday this year, has gradually built an international network of cheesemakers, shepherds, cheesemongers and affineurs, the people who come together every two years here to present their products, meet the public, debate the challenges they have to face and address critical new issues in the dairy world.
The last edition of Cheese, held in 2015, saw the participation of more than 270,000 visitors, 30% of whom from overseas, and more than 300 exhibitors from 23 countries.
Cheese 2017 puts raw milk cheeses at the center of the debate. For the first time ever, this year the Italian and International Market features only cow’s, ewe’s and goat’s cheeses made with raw milk. This is a big step forward that raises the bar of quality even higher. Raw milk cheeses, in fact, epitomize an immense heritage of biodiversity—of pastures, of animal breeds, of different kinds of milk, of skills and traditions. They embody values in stark contrast with the sterilization and homogenization of mass-produced food.
What’s more, this year Cheese aims to launch a veritable raw milk movement and to plan its future actions. In many countries, raw milk is prohibited or restricted, meaning that producers aren’t free to make traditional raw milk cheeses and consumers aren’t free to choose for themselves. The battle in defense of raw milk, carried forward by Slow Food since the earliest editions of Cheese, has achieved significant results and the network of small-scale producers has spread to countries as far away as South Africa, Brazil and Argentina. However, there is still a long way to go.
Of close on 600 international Presidia, as many as 95 are dedicated to cheese. At Cheese, visitors will be able to find out more about many Slow Food Presidia, such as Raw Milk Stichelton from the UK, Mountain Pasture Sbrinz from Switzerland and Boeren Leyden Traditioneel, a new Presidium recently launched in the Netherlands.
The guest of honor this year will be the USA, where Slow Food launched its now historic American Raw Milk Cheeses Presidium.
Another of the main themes of Cheese 2017 is naturalness (hence the use or otherwise of industrial enzymes in cheese), with a dedicated area featuring not only cheese itself, but also naturally cured meats produced without the use of nitrites, nitrates and other preservatives, natural wines made with selected yeasts and without sulfites, traditional spontaneously fermented Belgian Lambic beer and sourdough bread.
Natural cheese means cheese made without industrial enzymes. Today, the majority of dairies no longer process milk by hand, wood is often banned and the milk flows from steel tube to steel tube in a perfectly sterilized environment that inhibits the growth of bacterial flora. All of which translates into a huge loss of biodiversity.
Some cheesemakers purchase ready-to-use enzymes to add to milk and start the coagulation process, their aim being to achieve a safer, more consistent product with fewer defects. The multinationals that produce and package starter cultures are making a fortune with this convenient shortcut, which eliminates flaws but standardizes taste. For years Slow Food has been encouraging cheesemakers not to use starter cultures—or, at least, to avoid buying them in—but to produce them in their own dairies (just as sourdough bread bakers and vinegar producer do), thus maintaining native bacterial flora and the sensory identity of the finished cheese.
The program for Cheese 2017 includes 35 Taste Workshops, guided tastings to allow visitors to discover the world of dairy biodiversity and more besides; Dinner Dates, opportunities to meet some of the finest Italian and international chefs and enjoy their special dishes; and conferences on issues involving animal welfare, global warming, nutrition and health.