25 Sep Please The Palate Pick of the Week: International Cheese Festival by Slow Food In Bra, Piemonte, Italy
After a weekend of relaxing and enjoying wine in the Langhe last weekend, my friend and I were about to drive back to Vercelli an hour and a half to the east. But, we detoured a little to head to the town of Bra where the biennial International Cheese Festival was taking place. I love wine but an entire festival dedicated to cheese? Yes, please! Featuring cheeses from across Italy, and beyond, the International Cheese Festival in Bra is the world’s largest and most important festival dedicated to raw milk cheese and dairy products and is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Bra, not the undergarment worn by women, is a town in the province of Cuneo in the northwest Italian region of Piedmont. Bra is a beautiful town that is home to Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement and of the world’s first University of Gastronomic Sciences. The biennial International Cheese Festival, which has taken place 11 times over the past 21 years, is organized by Slow Food and is held the third weekend in September. It was a happy coincidence that I was in the area on this weekend.
The goal of the International Cheese Festival is to promote regional producers and local products. And the specific theme this year was “Consider the Animals”. Because, if there were no animals, there would be no cheese. As the festival explained, “If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Covid-19, it’s that our relationship with nature must be recalibrated. We have to strive to establish a healthier equilibrium with the world around us. We have to learn to behave not as if we were owners of this planet, but mere tenants with a duty to respect our neighbors, be they cows, sheep, goats, wild animals, bees and other pollinators, right down to bacteria and microorganisms.”
The entire town of Bra was converted into the cheese festival with stands lining the streets featuring cheese producers, as well as charcuterie, wine producers, and more. And the best part is that the festival is free to attend.
My friend and I spent the afternoon strolling around, stopping at different stands and tasting cheeses. Some of the favorites that we tasted, and also bought some, were a range of small regional producers.
Our first stop was at La Servaja where owner GianVittorio Porasso was showcasing his goat milk cheeses produced locally in Cuneo in Castelnuovo di Ceva. His various cheeses ranged from fresh to aged for various lengths of time. We took a liking to an aromatic goat cheese that included CBD which gave the cheese added herbaceous flavors.
Based in Bra, the Gallarato family showcased their large range of sheep milk cheeses.
We tasted Macagn, a typical mountain cheese made from full-fat, raw cow’s milk. The aged cheeses have more pronounced aromas of grass and wildflowers than the younger ones.
Caseificio Terre Del Giarolo is a dairy located in Colli Tortonesi in the Province of Alessandria and they were showcasing a cheese called the Montébore. Almost extinct, Montébore is one of the rarest cheeses in the world. It is produced with 70% cow’s milk and 30% sheep’s milk, and can have 5% of goat’s milk added.
Castelmagno is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cow’s milk cheese from Piedmont and has a firm, crumbly texture and a nutty flavor.
Storico Ribelle is a cheese produced exclusively in the summer months. It is made from a combination of raw milk from cows and goats who feed on the mountain pastures where they are milked in the pastures. Trying three styles, the youngest was creamier and the oldest had a more crumbly texture.
In addition to cheese, we enjoyed some fresh salami from local producer Biulotti.
It was a fantastic afternoon in the open air. I loved tasting so many delicious cheeses and talking to the producers.
Of course, we also bought a lot of different cheeses which we enjoyed that night for dinner because you can never eat too much good cheese.
And, I brought a few cheeses home with me, which meant that there was quite an aroma coming out of my carry-on bag on the airplane.