26 October 2008

Open Eyes to Food

Day 2 at Terre Madre gave delegates time to explore the Salone del Gusto. This is a food show that is adjacent to Terre Madre. This food show is all artisinal foods from many different regions of the world. This is not your ordinary food show. It is in a convention center about the size of 8 city blocks. It is mond boggeling to look into the convention center and see the mixture of cultures all on one room.

I spent the morning with Ragina Mahlick tasting through the items that are in the Presidia. The Presidia is a program in Slow Food that recognizes quality products at risk of extinction, protect unique regions and ecosystems, recovers traditional processing methods, safeguard native breeds and local plant varieties. The Presidia directly involve producers, offering technical assistance to improve production quality, organize exchanges among different countries, provides new market outlets (both locally and internationally). With more than 320 International Presidia, Slow Food protects biodiversity in the whole world: from Rimbas Black Pepper in Malaysia, to Mananara Vanilla in Madagascar. I was struck at the limited amounts of food that we actually eat on a regular basis. Chef Mahlick and I had long talks about how we could start incorporating more diverse products on our foods. To the depth of ordering and using specific types of corn.

In the afternoon and late evening I was able to taste many more of the rest of the items in Salone del Gusto. I think I tasted 30 different forms of cured hams on the level of procuitto. Learning many of the nuances of flavor that can be developed by the breed of the animal and how it is raised. I must have tried a hundred cheeses, learning the delicate balance of cheesemaking. I tried many artisinal chocolate and listed as chocolate makers would describe where the tree was grown, what was growing next to it and why all of that matters. And it tried hundreds of other products, learning in each step about the significants of how things are grown or raised in each step. I realize now how we as Americans are blind to all of these things. We buy our fruits, vegetables and meats in a supermarket blind to any nuance that was greated by the grower. We really do not even know what the breed or species of the products that we buy.

This day opened my eyes of how significant our farmers markets are. How important it is that we cultivate a climate with these markets and CSA that openly talk about where the produce and meats are coming from and how they are grown. And, I think it is imparative that people have the ability to meet the grower and have opportunities to see the farms.

Chef Thom England

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