I well and truly overdid eating this festive season past. The 5 bird roast, the whole leg of Spanish Jamon, endless jars of duck liver pate, smoked salmon, smoked venison…and then the cheese, of which Stichelton most certainly featured, with its partner Port. The gord is setting in, the gout can’t be far to follow.
2015 brings one very exciting event to the world cheese calendar. Cheese, as it is now known, is a festival of cheese in Bra, Piedmont. Organised by Slow Food. Cheesemakers and retailers from all over the world attend. It really is an amazing place to be. The festival takes the whole town.
I was lucky enough to attend the 2013 Cheese. John kept the cheese turning at Stichelton, whilst Joe and myself headed out to Italy. (Joe actually flew out earlier, probably on business class). I arrived into Turin (EasyJet, economy class) and eventually found a train to Bra. The festival was in its first night, I rocked up at the Neals Yard Dairy stand, to find Joe working hard at the bar opposite.
The place was buzzing, cheese everywhere. I met Martin the manager of the Borough Market branch of NYD–he informed me that Georgio Cravero was holding a party for customers and cheesemakers at his place just up the road. This is where Georgio matures the Parmigiano Reggiano he buys from the producers in the region. His stores were seriously impressive, as were his guests. I’m not one to name drop but some seriously good/famous cheesemakers were in attendance, drinking Prosecco and getting stuck into a tasty raclette that was put on by Kappacasein.
This was my first time in Italy. I was overwhelmed with the passion the Italians have for good food, and the respect they have for the people and the animals that produce it. Something that is overlooked in the UK, particularly when Dairy farmers can’t even get paid for the milk they produce. I have never eaten so much veal in all my life; served raw, it is one of the best things I have ever eaten. The pizzas were delightfully sparsely topped and very very tasty, and the gelato! Panna cotta gelato in a wafer cone. I could have stayed in Italy forever.
I had been warned of a few other quirks that may occur whilst at the festival. A former colleague at Stichelton had his nipple tweaked by a curious chap whilst tasting out Stich in the cheese tent. Fairly odd. Another was that Italians when eating something that is agreeable, gesture with their hand in a twisty pointing motion at their mouths. Fortunately, this occurred quite regularly when they tried Stich. Unfortunately, my nipple remained untweaked. Maybe this year.
As stated previously the festival takes over the whole town, which is fairly small. Accommodation as a result is scarce. Room sharing is an inevitable outcome. Something I dread. I was staying in a tiny village called Roddi about 15 minutes drive from Bra. The Cascina Barin is a agri-tourism B&B run by the lovely Giuseppina. Her breakfasts are legendary. The Cascina is set amongst the hazelnut orchards (the Ferrero Nutella nuts come form here) and vineyards in the hills of Piedmont, and is a truly stunning location.
(Hazelnuts drying in the car park of the Cascina Barin)
I was rooming with the Cheddar Boys, Jamie Montgomery, Tom Calver and James Keen. I had to make them aware that I suffer from sleep apnoea, and that I may make some disturbing noises during the night, whilst I hold my breath and exhale a squeak. This turned out to be the least of my worries after stumbling in from a night out with the Neals Yard cheesemongers at 6am, a little bit drunk and out of breath after getting lost and being chased down the country roads by a barking dog.
Hope to see you in Bra for Cheese 2015, fancy sharing a room?