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.
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.
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.