Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Salone del Gusto / Terra Madre 2014 - The Marketplace and Dinner Dates

In my last posting I tried to give a condensed overview and explanation of what "Slow Food" is exactly, at least from my perspective. You can of course go over to their website and have a nosy around to suit yourself, of course. As it is a concept and a movement then there are not only many interpretations as to what that means, but it also means that there are many directions that this multi faceted organization could and has gone.

The first and most obvious direction was to recognize the multitude of small farmers and food producers that are, not only the backbone of food production here in Italy and worldwide as well, but are often an almost hidden part of the economy that needs and deserves to have more light shown on them.  Italy has done pretty well over the years to cultivate an awareness of traditional foods and methods of making products that were maybe once everyday products that have now become artisanal as they have been overshadowed by the enormous companies that dominate the food landscape. You can find many programs on TV that go around Italy seeking out small family farms and artisanal producers and focuses on their foods and lifestyle and community as part of travelogues here in Italy. I must say it is a tradition that I have noticed and greatly admired since I have lived here. 

"Slow Food" has built on that tradition and in 1996 they organized the first "Salone del Gusto" (roughly translated as an exhibition of taste or flavor)  in Turin "dedicated to artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and high quality products."  This food fair has been built on the platform of an Italian and International marketplace for showcasing, sampling and purchasing what the exhibitors have brought to this biennial event. Held in the historical old Fiat factory building, called the Lingotto, it is an enormous sprawling showplace that offers an overwhelming sensory experience. The event runs from 11am to 11pm for 5 days, so you would think there would be plenty of time to take it all in, but I must warn you that there are just so many intriguing facets to this event that you will be hard pressed to make your way through the swirling sea of gustatory offerings.  

I have tried to share a small portion of the Marketplace spectacle through my collages of my photo impressions this year, so that you might get a feel for the breadth of the show. 

One of the more well known parts of the "Salone del Gusto" that takes product tasting to another level, are what are called "Dinner Dates".  These are exclusive dinners featuring special ingredients some familiar and most likely,  some not, but all of the highest quality interpreted by celebrated chefs from around the world in a variety of exclusive settings. This year there were 20 dinners over the 5 nights with limited seating and so these are highly sought after dinner dates, which sell out quickly inspire of their pricey tickets. This type of exclusivity does play to what has been an ongoing critique of "Slow Food" as being an exclusive eating club. It is a fair criticism, and one that they have tried to address through many of their ever expanding initiatives that promotes their core belief that everyone deserves "good, clean and fair food" which you can learn more about following the link. 
I personally think they have done much to counter balance this criticism, but there is still so much to do in this area and in so many directions whether it is fighting for the right to biodiversity, competing on a more level economic field where small produces can actually compete, not damage the environment doing so, and ultimately having pricing that the producers make a decent wage, whilst still being affordable to all economic incomes. Much work ahead to accomplish that goal and it will take a lot more of us banding together to make that happen. More on that in the next post. 
The two Antonias 
So back to the Dinner Date. 
I was very fortunate to accompany my friend Antonia, visiting from Florida, and enjoy the dinner date entitled "Antonia's Vision." Antonia chose this dinner based on their common name and it turned out to be a wonderful selection. The food was accessible and to me familiar and yet with interesting and artful interpretation from Antonia and her team of what looked like female chefs, when they all came out at the end to take their much deserved bows. Each of the six courses were paired with some lovely wines from the Veneto region from where Chef Antonia Klugmann hails from. She was just awarded a Michelin star to her restaurant L'Argine in Venco` (Go), which is in the Friuli, Venezia, Guilia region and all of her dishes seemed to echo the culinary tastes of these two regions with the turn of her unique touch. 

I won't go into all the details as I have added the menu with some snaps of the food to give you an idea of the dinner and do believe me that it was all quite delightful, sometimes surprising and definitely delicious.  I have been asked if I thought the dinner was worth the €90 price tag and it is something I have asked myself as well. By nature and how I was raised, I have trouble spending a lot of money on food, when I am generally thinking how many groceries it will get me, especially when I may have found the meal lacking. This meal did not disappoint, but frankly the aspect of the dinner that knocked it out of the park for me, was the people that we were seated with for the dinner. The two couples what we were randomly seated with were delightful  and interestingly enough, we had much in common. Three of us were avid bread bakers, all Slow Food members and believers. My friend Antonia's business is called The Loft 5 from Anna Marie Island in Florida. She is a tour de force with her talent and staff that goes from designing and planning your event, to catering, styling it and making sure everything goes off without a hitch.  She has teamed up with the King Family Farms and created their very successful "Table to Farm" dinners, that were featured in Southern Living Magazine. You can read about that event here. The two Antonias had much in common. 
The other two couples were charming and extremely fascinating as well. One couple were from Switzerland and both were graphic artists and interesting conversationalists as well. The other couple were from Portugal. They have a business aptly called Food, People & Design. What style and beauty in these talented hands. If that business isn't enough, they also have a farm a couple of hours out side of Lisbon where they have reclaimed some ancient olive trees that are said to be over 1,000 years old.  They work in conjunction with their neighbors and even have set up an adoption program for their trees, to help nurture and provide for these very special trees. Do go to their site and consider adopting one of their trees or purchasing some of their organic oil. I am so impressed with their vision and hard work. Go to their site Azeitona Verde here.  

Needles to say, our dining experience was lifted even higher with such lively exchanges of stories and ideas. For me that was as much of the highlight of the dinner as the food and wine. In regard to the earlier question that was posed to me, "was it worth the money?" I would have to say unequivocally in this case, yes. I only hope that everyone else who attended any of these dinners would be able to say the same.  You just have to make the most out of whatever comes your way and we enjoyed every aspect of this dinner. I'm still savoring this experience even today.
My next post on this event will be on what "Slow Food" does beyond the sensory experience. I hope you will return for that post coming up shortly.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Slow Food - Fast Food, What's All the Fuss?

Slow Food Movement…? 

Our Slow food flag flying at Bella Baita
Where to begin?
If you want to learn more about it first hand, you can skip this article and just head over to their very extensive site now, at this Slow Food link. Or you can read on and head over later.This is my take on the Slow Food Movement and some of its many faces. I had such a varied experience this year at the 2014 Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre event, that I though tI would break my story up into a few stories that I experienced for a series of post over the next few days. First a bit of background on Slow Food and next up will be some stories and lots of photos to give you a general feel. I will post some links to past editions of Salone del Gusto that I have attended over the years. 

First up...I live in the Italian region of Piedmont where what is known as the "Slow Food"  movement was born. You may perhaps not be familiar with it, or perhaps you have heard of it and not exactly sure what it means, or you have no idea what in the world I am talking about. Rest assured, you are not alone in any of these categories. However, I suspect you may have heard a reference or two in more recent years as food has become not only a huge source of entertainment, but also quite the talking point for a wide ranging of topics be it our health, our children's health, the health of our source of our food and the condition of the land that produces it. Whew, that's a mouthful. It would be fair to say that food has become political. Actually, it was and always has been political, but I think it would be fair to say that it was usually confined to the realm of food security and hardly concerned about the state of what exactly we are consuming.  Then there is the small matter of the myriad of repercussions of our food choices in that what we consume and its effects that ranges from production, supply, food safety, environmental degradation, and ultimately the economy. So what started as a group of Piemontese Italians reaction to the "fast food" culture that seemed to be taking over Italy and the world, "Slow Food" was born and not too long after it was declared a movement. You can read all about Slow Food's history here. So what exactly is a "movement" you might ask? I know I did.The dictionary describes it as such;
  • a group of people with a common ideology, esp a political or religious one
  • the organized action of such a group
  • a series of organized activities working toward an objective; also : an organized effort to promote or attain an end movement. (example, the civil rights movement)
So for the past 28 years, "Slow Food" has existed as a push back to the "fast food" culture that seems to have globally engulfed traditional foods and culture and in its wake much has been lost or abandoned in the sense of biodiversity as well as culturally. To grasp this movement would be like trying to grab hold onto an ocean of water, which is vast, elusive, ever changing and stubbornly rooted. I have been aware of this movement since nearly it's beginning, and have lived what I think of as a slow food kind of life in a fast food world. I've cooked and baked professionally and yet, after work when I went home I still enjoyed cooking most meals from scratch. I thought that's what most people did, my mom and most people I knew did. I took a degree in horticulture many years ago in college, but found that the agribusiness aspect of it all, off putting and ultimately I knew that I was  more suited to serving up food than growing it. Gardening is fulfilling enough for me. Over the years, I have shopped in farmers markets whenever possible and always tried to seek out ingredients that didn't have too many ingredients that were unpronounceable or chemically sounding.  So my life went.However, until I moved to Italy, and found that the fresh food market was still alive and well in almost every small and large village in Italy, did I find the satisfaction of being able to locally source such a variety of foods.  Not everyone has that luxury in their busy lives, but everyone does deserve food that you can trust that is healthy. I think that is one of the things that has been lost, that closer connection to our food sources, of personally knowing where our food comes from and that it is safe to eat, or that there is a face that stands behind the quality and humane treatment of our food sources. I love being able to put money directly into the sometimes gnarled hands of people that are growing our food. It's nice to have a friendly chat about what we are buying, and what they are selling. Again, not everyone can do that, but we need to bring back that trust of what we are being served up from the industries that we once trusted implicitly. The "Slow Food" movement challenges us to get involved with what we eat, how it is produced and who benefits, amongst a myriad of other concerns also. 
Association of Potato Growers from neighboring Cuneo
Since 1996 the "Salone del Gusto" arrived as a biennial International exhibition of foods "dedicated to artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and high quality products," it has been evolving ever since. What once was mostly a food fair, has now combined with another Slow Food organization called "Terra Madre" in 2004 whose network " unites food producers, fishers, breeders, chefs, academics, young people, NGOs and representatives of local communities who are working to establish a system of good, clean and fair food from the grassroots level."  The  organizations goal is also designed to  "give a voice and visibility to those around the world whose approach to food production protects the environment and communities." Over the years, I have attended the "Salone del Gusto" mainly taking in the massive food fair and usually finding it mildly overwhelming, always inspiring and vastly educational. I have always discovered foods that I have never heard of and some that are in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth. Mostly these foods are associated with Slow Food's Presidia and Ark of Taste, which are a part of their foundation for "preserving biodiversity" which you can learn more about here.

This year I wanted to take a deeper look beyond the food fair aspect, which I naturally would not entirely abandon, but I just wanted to make sure that I participated in some of the vast array of topics,  speakers, discussions, taste workshops, conferences, movies, and dinners that this 5 day event has to offer. There was an 85 paged handout on all the various events that one could participate in. Some were free and open till the room was filled to overflowing and others had limited amounts of participants and some involved extra payment beyond the entry fee to the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre venues. I barely scratched the surface and even though I have been on numerous occasions, I still wish I had been better organized and prepared to have jumped in even deep er than I did. It truly was wonderful. Because I found this years event more of a discovery of events that I really haven't participated in before, I have decided to share a few posts on the various things that I participated in this year. I also want to make sure I am able to share a goodly amount of my photos from this year as well, so with a couple more posts I should be able to do that. 

Some of my experiences and insights that I will share in the next week or two will be a combination of photos and short stories. 
Champagne's renown pasta of Gragnano 
I will take a look at the vast Italian and International food market.
I want to share a few of the Terra Madre delegates stories as wells their contributions and market offerings to raise attention to what they are working to achieve. 
African delegates and crafts from home
Lavazza coffee and their 2015 "Earth Defenders" calendar initiate to raise money for the "10, 000 Gardens for Africa" project, plays prominently in the visual telling of some of the Terra Madre stories.

I was inspired at the "Cooking to Spread Awareness" seminar, that was a conversation between three of some of the more well known names of people who are trying to do just that. The panel featured, Carlo Petrini, of Italy and founder of Slow Food, Alice Waters of the US and an early voice of eating local foods that are produced lovingly with care and founder and advocate for the Edible Schoolyard project, and Jamie Oliver, from the UK, a celebrity chef and food activist, that has done more to raise the bar and awareness of what our children are being fed, and how that can be improved. 
Then there was a taste workshop featuring "Presidia" beans and lentils as well as a gourmet dinner aptly called, Antonia's vision. 
So stay tuned as these and other of  my stories of my Slow Food journey from last weeks Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre, come spilling out for your reading pleasure over the course of the next week or maybe two, as I digest this latest edition. 
The Ark of Taste Project
For your consideration, "Slow Food", my view
To be continued......
Me - Marla, your guide from my Bella Baita View
Some of my past posts on the Salone del Gusto
Oct 29, 2010
So we start at the grass roots level and every 2 years the "Salone del Gusto", provides a market place open to the public with a reasonable entrance fee, €20, where buyers and sellers can meet and sample all the wondrous ...
Nov 27, 2012
Every two years "Slow Food International" puts on a food extravaganza they call "Salone del Gusto", which roughly translates to halls of taste, or an exhibition of flavor. We live in the mountains of Italy's Piedmont region, in the ...
Nov 03, 2008
A week has come and gone, more guests have come and gone, and yet the buzz of Slow Food's Salone del Gusto 08 still lives on. That is, at least for me, especially when I break out some of the delicious foods and products ...
Oct 22, 2008
It's a very exciting time in Torino at the moment that only rolls around every 2 years. Yes, it's the Slow Food 's Salone del Gusto extravaganza. For those of you not familiar with this movement, it was born here Piedmont in the ...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Salone del Gusto / Terra Madre 2014

Hey guess where I am ? 
I'm in Turin for the 2014 Salone del Gusto /Terra Madre International Slow Food Event.
I'll be sharing more over the next few days, when I can digest it all and find the time to write about it. 
It's been really interesting, challenging and in spiring so far. 

Me with my press pass 

Over 3,00 delegates from all over the world here to share their stories, challenges and solutions of working toward lives and food that is "Good, Clean and Fair"

I've got Food stories

and people stories

Alice Waters, Jamie Olive, the moderator and Carlo Petrini. 

What a fabulous conference this was. 

More to come. 

Ciao ciao!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Rifugio Hopping in the Alps

Rifugio Selleries in Val Chisone Italy
As the mountain huts of the high country begin to close their doors for the winter I wanted to share with you a few thoughts and photos that have been lurking in my unpublished blog posts since this summer. 
It is my humble opinion, that one of the greatest pleasures of mountain life in the Alps of Europe, is the very civilized tradition of  hiking up to the mountain huts or rifugios, as they are known here in Italy for a meal, or drink or an overnight stay. The summer season has slipped away before I could extol the joys of hiking and staying up in the part of the world where chamois and Ibex make their home, where the marmots whistle and warn each other that people are on their way, and the occasional grazing contented cow or two will dot the mountainside.
Cows on the way to Rifugio Selleries - Val Chisone
I want to pique your interest into making sure that you put this experience at the top of your "must do someday" to sooner, rather than later, so you don't miss out on, what I consider to be, a most special experience. There is still time to hike in the high country before the weather sets in and there are a few huts that stay open all winter, but the majority of huts are put to bed for the winter. The people that run them, just like the cows and sheep that have spent their summer grazing up high, come down from their alpine eyries and do something different for the winter. 
Val Pellice
I have always had a passion for hiking since probably my teenage years of traipsing around in the woods with friends seeing the wonders of nature even in my backyard in the hollers of backwoods southern Illinois. We camped a bit as a family growing up, but we usually had a little camper and almost never used tents. Tent camping was a revelation. To be able to get to places whose beauty was so breathtaking and humbling, was intoxicating and definitely something I wanted to do as often as possible.  Fast forward past the many backpacking trips in the Rockies when I made my home in the high country of Colorado to living in "the" Alps, the Italian alps. Now having lived in the Alps of Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy for a number of years, I have been fortunate to be able to revel in the joys of skiing or walking up to a mountain hut just to have lunch. 
Val Pellice
Who knew that there would be people living at these huts and serving up food and drink for weary hikers so they wouldn't have to drag all that equipment and food around and just be able to breath in the beauty of the wildflowers, animals and skies of blue and sometimes weather that that makes you wonder what were you thinking? But then you get to the hut and there is hearty sustaining food for the asking, reviving or numbing drinks, warm water (usually, but not always warm) and either bunks or small private rooms to rest those weary bones. I have also been fortunate enough to sometimes stay overnight and on a  few occasions been able to link a few days of hut to hut travel. What a fantastic time it is to be able to stay up in the mountains and walk to your next destination knowing you aren't going to have to find a proper tent spot, fire wood or crack out the camp stove and boil something. I must admit that I do sometimes miss that freedom, but hey, you gotta try this style of camping some time. It will spoil you rotten and you are supporting a livelihood of people who are there to provide you this most excellent service. Staying in a mountain hut is not fancy, definitely rustic, and always interesting. That at least has been my experience. 
Rifugio Selleries - Val Chisone
Basic Hut Information
When making your plans remember that most mountain huts are open from approximately June to mid June to the end of September, but that can vary depending on how high up they are and how fast or slowly the snow melts in the spring. We have a variety of huts in our valley and there is a wonderful circular itinerary close to us called the Monviso Tour / Val Pellice that circles Monviso mountain, which is the highest peak in our range of Cozie or Cottian alps. The circular takes a minimum of 5 nights in alpine huts and walks between them are gauged in manageable distances. It is good to factor in a couple of extra days just in case the weather is uncooperative or the snow hasn't gone or arrived unexpectedly. That doesn't always happen but weather does happen, so it is good to have some extra time too just in case you need to use it.
There are various huts listed on the itinerary with numbers to contact once they are back in business for the season. Most huts have quite a lot of room for travelers, so there usually isn't a problem to get a place to sleep, but usually helpful to make a reservation during the busiest period during August when most of Europe is on holiday. My understanding too is that huts can not turn you away even if all of their dedicated beds are full. They must offer floor space and shelter as is the tradition of the high country. I did see that happen once in Austria when we came down in the mooring there were people scattered all over the floor. Probably not the most comfortable night, but better than being outdoors without the proper gear. 
Most stays are modestly priced at € 25 for sleeping with breakfast, add another €20 for dinner and if you would like a sack lunch for the trail that is around €10. They provide a blanket and sometimes a pillow, but you need to carry a sheet sack so that you are cocooned in our own person sheet. these are relatively in expensive at most camping stores and are availably here in Pinerolo also. So a nights stay in a dormitory room with three meals comes in around €55 ($70 / £43, prices will fluctuate depending on the exchange rate for non European visitors).  These are 2014 prices.
Drinks are usually a separate charge. Some have private rooms for a slightly higher price, usually another €10 person, give or take. The prices reflect the effort it takes to get much of the food supplies up to the huts. Some huts are supplied by trucks, mules or helicopters, so there is some expense involved for the hut masters. 
A phrase book is always handy if you are short on languages spoken other than English.
I have always found the food to be good and the drinks, especially the alcoholic ones very welcome. 
That is some basic information that you can put into planning when you make your way to the Alps for some breathtaking vistas, chance meetings with others on the trail, flora and fauna, and awe inspiring days out.
Polenta and venison stew
latte macchiato

Can't commit to more than the day? Well, there are still a number of huts that make for a great day out with a hearty and delightful lunch up, sometimes, in the clouds and certainly closer to the heavens. 
Start planning your hut trip now so you have something exciting to anticipate for the next nine months. 
If you have any doubt that it's worth the effort, come and stay with us before your hut to hut adventure and we can help you plan it or visit us afterwards and enjoy a bit of pampering and reentry into putting up your feet and relaxing.  We can even teach you to make some local specialties if you want to join in one of our Cooking Together classes whist you are here. Our Bella Baita is a great choice for starting or ending a trip or just making this base camp for your alpine adventures. We'll be in the garden or kitchen whipping something up for your arrival. Ci vediamo presto! (See you soon!)
You can never have too much fun in the Alps!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta, a Piemontese Treat

What a funny summer we have had here in the Alps. I don't know about you, but I am just a tad disappointed in the lack of hot glistening days so far this summer. However, there is one Italian dessert that I am certain will lift your spirits or top off a perfect hot summer day and that would be the crown jewel of Piemontese desserts that is panna cotta. This simple ending to a meal is perfection on a plate. It's light and yet indulgent. The name "panna cotta" literally translates as "cooked cream". Piedmont, one of Italy's northern regions in which I live, and that borders France, is famous for it's dairy rich cuisine and oftentimes overlap of  French culinary influence. Piedmont was once the kingdom of Savoy, whose royal house spawned many a tradition both culinary and culturally that have passed down through the ages and households of its loyal subjects.  This dessert will win your heart with its simplicity, versatility and easy preparation.  

Poued into cups before they have been refrigerated
The most traditional way of eating this dessert is just plain relying on the goodness and quality of the cream, however it certainly lends itself to many variations of sauces to accompany it or various liqueurs, or herbal infusions that if done with a light hand, adds layers of intrigue. 
I love this version of infusing the cream with a small amount of fresh lemon verbena leaves for the summer as a lighter version from my winter version that utilizes my homemade walnut liqueur called nocino. Both are winners and only a steeping off point to vary this lucious creamy dessert that you can whip up in the morning and enjoy for dinner that evening or the next. I have noticed that a few restaurants are starting to serve their panna cotta in a clear glass jar that insures that they don't have to worry about the dessert setting up on time or being anxious that the delightful little wiggle that a well made panna cotta has when turned out onto your plate and carried to the table, that insures a few oohs and aahs from your adoring dinner guests.  
I have added a subtle amount of lemon verbena and so you made find you want to add more or less, it could depend on how large your leaves are or whether or not they are fresh or dried. When infusing the cream, just make sure to taste your cream a while after it has sat in order to insure you have as much flavor as you want. If not strong enough, add more crushed leaves and reheat if it has cooled took much. It's up to you.
Colle di pesce geletin and lemon verbena leaves

Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta

with a Blueberry Compote

5 servings
  • 2 long gelatin sheets, long sheets or 4 short sheets (place in bowl of cold water)
  • 400 g of heavy cream (2 cups)
  • 120 g whole milk (½ cup)
  • 70 g sugar (6 T vanilla sugar is nice)
  • 8 or so lemon verbena leaves, fresh (approximately 2 T  or so)

  1. In a saucepan add heavy cream and milk along with the lemon verbena leaves
  2. Heat till it is hot to the touch and turn off heat and let the milk cream mixture infuse with the lemon verbena for about 1/2 hour. Test the mixture after about 10 minutes to see how the flavor is coming along and perhaps adjust by adding a few leaves if needed. 
  3. Place your gelatin sheets in cold water to soften while your cream mix infuses. 
  4. Strain out the leaves once your cream is flavored to a good strength but not too strong. Remove leaves earlier if you think it is getting to strong for your taste. I prefer a more subtle flavor but still to be strong enough to know it is there. 
  5. Once the mixture has cooled some and flavor has developed, I usually strain the leaves out into a bowl and clean out the bottom of the pan to make sure it won't stick when warming up the cream and sugar.
  6. Sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of the pan and pour the infused milk and cream mixture back into the pan.
  7. Gently squeeze the sheets of gelatin dry and add sheets to the cream mixture.

  8. Stir until sheet of gelatin has dissolved, reheating if necessary to dissolve the gelatin if the cream has cooled too much..Pour into cups and let set at room temperature until cool to touch. Refrigerate  or several hours until gelain has set and ready to serve.  (at least a couple of hours or overnight is good)
Suggestions: Any liquor or flavoring(vanilla, amend extract, Amaretto, Frangelico, Gran Marnier, Nocino, you get the idea) may be substituted for variety or taste preference.

Blueberry or other berry Compote

2 c.  fresh blueberries (200g)
4-5 T sugar (50 - 70 g) (can a bit more or less depending how sweet you want it to be)

Combine berries and sugar in a sauce pan and cook gently till the berries pop and make a soft creamy  compote for the panna cotta.

To Serve:
Unmold the pannacotta by running a small blunt knife around the edge of the cup.  Place a plate over the panna cotta and flip over. Tap gently on the bottom of the cups. (I have used plastic yogurt cups before and they have a little give when you are tapping that helps) The panna cotta should come right out. If not you can let gravity help you or place your plans over as the heat of your hands will help encourage the panna cotta to come out. Spoon your room temperature berries on the plate by the panna cotta.
Panna cotta with fresh cherry compote
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