25Oct2008

Terra Madre and Salone, day 3

I can hardly believe that tomorrow is the already our last day here! Didn’t we just arrive? What an intensely packed few days it has been, though. We are having one amazing interaction after another. This morning, we decided to focus on the Slow Food Presidium foods. While interacting with the American delegates and the associated Presidia (US Raw Milk Cheeses booth staffed by Jamie Yturriondobeitia from Shelburne Farms!), we passed by the section of Basque foods and a very sweet old man from behind the booth reached out and started talking to me in several languages, until I understood the Spanish. Turns out he was asking me alternately in Castillian and Basque if I was related to anyone in the Castilla y Leòn region. In fact I am, my paternal grandmother’s family is from that region of Spain – generations back, mind you, but I’ve got roots there. He said he recognized “my Basque face” and proceeded to share with pride his food story. He works with farmers that grow a specific type of corn that they grow in a certain way, all by hand, and mill with an old stone mill for 12 hours and produce very few pounds a year – about 5000 pounds or so. It produces the finest corn flour found anywhere, and they use it to make these small little tortillas that they fill with chorizo and eat with bean soups. It was a really neat connection, and the tortillas were the most fantastic texture I have ever tried – it was almost like a pastry! Neat. I bought some flour, of course – how could I not? Plus, I would love to reproduce that texture. We’ll see how it works out! That is just one amazing interaction of dozens today, Thomas has an amazing ability to strike up conversations with farmers that want to adopt him and make him their personal ambassadors to the US on behalf of their special food. Thomas has gotten lots of free products this week – we hope to partake in his goods at some point! Spencer has an amazing ability to get us through the crowds and to the exact places that we long to be – no small feat in a place with oodles of vendors over 5 pavilions! He likes maps.
We tried to just take in the immensity of the entire operation today (still tallying all the vendors). We spent time in the beer garden area just hanging out debriefing the entire experience. We ate prosciutto sandwiches and prosciutto tortellini while people watching for at least two hours. During that time, we had a neat experience being approached by a farmer that we had spoken with at the past couple of PASA conferences. We told him at those conferences that he needed to go to Terra Madre (he was extremely enthusiastic about farming in his Amish community in PA, and we thought he would be a great delegate to Terra Madre). He represents the painfully absent Amish farming community, which is so incredibly important to our sustainable American farming culture. Well, he made it here, and has been completely blown away by this incredible experience – he had been looking for us to thank us for the idea to come, and couldn’t believe he found us. He thanked us over and over again and I’ve gotta admit that it was a nice ego stroke! I feels so good to have opened a door to someone that is definitely going to take this experience back to his farming community and continue inspiring other farmers and potential farmers to keep doing what we are doing and not to give up! That was a super neat connection today because we had a major networking session – he gave us a crash course in quail raising (watch out everybody! Bring on the Half Pint Birds!!), and we talked with him about some pig connections in Vermont. This will be one connection that keeps on growing, I’m sure!
We also connected with our friend Lorenzo, who is from Milan, but we met in Burlington through some of our good friends. We had a wonderful dinner at a pizzeria in Torino tonight, and plan on meeting tomorrow at the Salone to show him around, and probably get him to translate a few things we’ve been wondering about! Then there’s all the shopping and tasting, the networking and shopping, and the hoping that we can bring it all back and also hoping that we have enough room in our baggage for all of our Terra Madre and Salone schwag!
You are not going to believe some of the things we’ve seen, like gigantic stacks of gigantic wheels of cheese, and 1000 prosciutti legs hanging in a gallery. The thing I keep repeating over and over is, “The Italians don’t mess around!” At least in the arena of food, they simply do whatever it takes to create the perfect ______. This applies to everything we’ve seen from creating a slicer to accommodate a pig leg to storing cheese in logs, hides and even cabbage leaves to stunning results! It’s been extremely fascinating and our discussions have been leaning more and more towards the science of taste and how to experience food, which seems like such an elitist way to approach food – but when you see ancient bearded farmers not even thinking twice about inhaling their piece of cheese deeply before letting it sit on their tongue, then chewing it, then breathing over it to oxygenate the aroma, swallowing it, then smiling and sharing the experience with whomever is closest; I realize the science of taste is a peasant culture and one that I intend to embrace, for I am a peasant and proud of it! In that same vein, I actually bought a shirt today that says in Italian, “Prisoner of Taste”. I can think of worse things to be accused of!
Well, off to pack and try to sleep – it is actually daylight savings time here tonight, so we get an extra hour of sleeping and digesting time, which is so needed! We will very likely not be able to post again until we return home, so I am looking forward to collating all of the pictures and doing these blogposts justice and adding more about our experience. Thanks for tolerating the non-visual representation of our experience! More once we arrive back in Burlington and upload pictures, and from where I will be armed with a full journal written on the long plane flight home. Arrividerci à tutti!!

Leave a Reply