Cheese Travels with Jim Wallace

A journal of travels to explore the old ways, history, and process. Visits with the cheese makers and photographs of the surrounding beauty. Jim teaches traditional cheesemaking in the US and can be contacted via ...

About Me

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Western Massachusetts USA, United States
I have been visiting cheese makers throughout Europe for many years now, researching the old ways of traditional cheese making . I currently teach several workshops on traditional cheese making in the US and can be contacted at ... ____ In my recent past I have traveled the wild places of this planet making photographs and fine prints. The blend of my cheese travels and making photographs combines the best of both worlds.

October 27, 2009

Sept 17-19 The Slow Foods
Cheese Festival in Bra Italy

Today we leave the beautiful sea. From Vernazza and the Cinque Terra we drive towards Genoa and on to  the wonderful city of Bra Italy 40 min south of Torino.

Before we left though Al and Lucy wanted their photo taken as they bask in the sun by the sea.

Bra is the home of Slow Foods, where we are spending the next 2 days at The Festival of Cheese. This is perhaps the largest cheese event in the world, showcasing not only Italian Cheese but cheese from all parts of the world.

We find our hotel easily (most rooms have been booked for months by now) and settle in. It is only a short distance into the town center but most restaurants and shops are closed in preparation for the weekends anticipated crowds. This is fine for us since we can head back to the hotel and catch up on emails and other business since we finally have a good online connection here.
Friday 18th:
The first day of Cheese '09. This is THE cheese festival for cheese lovers. This is organized by and in the hometown of "Slow Foods" and is perhaps one of the most extensive presentations of cheese in the world. This is not the primary venue for the larger cheese makers (that is held in Parma every 2 years)  but it represents the smaller scale cheese makers and the specific cheeses that slow foods is working to protect.

We are up and out early after a great breakfast at the hotel. It gives us a chance to see the cheese makers putting the finishing touches on their displays. Also it gets us to the Slow Foods office to pick up our reservation for workshops and our dinner on Sunday night.
Today is quite busy since we have booked 3 workshops in addition to connecting with some of our favorite cheese makers and finding new cheese contacts for our future visits.

Fridays first workshop was with Herve Mons from France who is one of the worlds finest affineurs (sources, ages, and sells cheese).
The topic was the cheese of the Auvergne and the role of raw milk. I had the highest hopes for this session since he was presenting a goat's milk cheese from Provence, a Traditional Salers from Auvergne and an Alpine Beaufort from Savoy. Unfortunately the fire alarm sounded and could not be shut off for the session and the class did not happen. I did manage to connect with Herve later since he knew of me through my friend Pierre Gay in Annecy, he was more than happy to help me with future plans in the Auvergne and any other contacts I need.

The next workshop was five italian affineurs: Giovanni Guffanti, Franco Parola, Gian Domenico Negro, Vittorio Beltrami, and Fiorenzo Giolito. The best of the best presenting the cheese they love best. Of course this was accompanied with their favorite wine. This turned into a passionate discussion on why it is so important to preserve these cheeses. Especially with Vittorio's exuberant and graphic point of view.

The final session was equally enlightening  with a tasting and comparison of 5 Alpine cheeses from northern Italy: Bagolino Bagòss, Bitto, aged Asiago, Monte Veronese, and Grappa Mountain Morlacco. It was amazing to see the taste comparison of these cheeses from similar pastures, similar process, but different regions and how they have evolved into such different cheeses over time.  Having visited many cheese makers in these regions it added a whole new level of understanding.

By 10 PM we  were both so exhausted we have no recollection of dinner or even if there was one. Anyhow we had enough cheese and wine to tide us over for the day.

 Sat 19th
Up early again, a good breakfast, and off to the festival. The second day of Cheese is rain but does not seem to dampen the crowds numbers or spirits. The festival is much more crowded this year. We begin working our way through the International cheese booths where several of the American Artisan cheeses are being presented as well as cheese from France, Italy, UK, Ireland, Switzerland etc. This is not a project to  be taken lightly.

October 9, 2009

Sept 15-17 the Cinque Terra

Rain today but good for the long drive from Trento to Vernazza via Modena and Parma. Most of it is Autostrada and the drive definitely requires 110% of our attention. As we cross the Appenines the sun breaks out for the drive to the sea.
Once we leave the highway it is just one steep turn on top of the next heading down to the sea.

Our target is the big parking lot in Monterosa and catch the train, but a wrong turn puts us in the wrong place. A call to our friends Michelle and Giuliano in Vernazza and we find that there is parking just outside of town so its back up the mountain to Vernazza.

We finally arrive and Giuliano leads us to the room he has found for us which happily is a full apartment right off the main street. The village is much busier than we remember so we hibernate a bit until the trains slowly bring the numbers down. These days many folks just come for the day. The evening quiets down somewhat but also brings the rain again. Although we were really hoping for nicer weather for our 2 days of R&R here, the wet really brings out the colors and reflections in this village on the sea. These 2 days are our "vacation" from cheese, so do not expect anything on the topic.

Robin is off again in search of the famous Vernazza "gatos" again and for sure finds them waiting in the Piazza and narrow streets.

We all know that "fresh" is the reason Italian food has such a great reputation and this early morning photo of the veggies arriving before  the crowds appear tells the story quite well. In Italy if the ingredient can not be found locally it's not going to be on the table for dinner.

We also are here during the grape harvesting time and as we wander through the narrow streets of the village we do notice a few "cantina" or cellar doors open where grapes are being turned into wine. As you can see by the photo to the right, the grapes are grown on very steep slopes in very small plots by the families in the village. These are then brought down by hand and carried to the cellars. The best of these are then hung from the ceilings to reduce the moisture in the grape before making wine. This wine is called Sciacchetra and is quite expensive.
Having the apartment for this village was a bonus because we finally had a chance to prepare our own simple meal. Local Pasta, Pesto from the deli downstairs, a fresh salad, and a bottle of Persecco. Thursday morning the sun finally breaks through again but it is time to leave. On the way out we get a chance to spend a little time with our friends Michelle, Giuliano, and little Sophia.

The rain is not all bad as this photo  shows in the piazza as the sun is trying to break through. Its just a different mood.