Italian city provides the perfect venue for celebration of slow food

Cheese
Cheese

Last week I was in Turin for the biannual Slow Food Terra Madre festival. It’s the biggest food festival in the globe with delegates from nearly 200 countries represented.

Slow Food is a grass roots movement that celebrates good, clean and fair food and this year the theme was “love the earth”. It brought together a diverse range of people from internationally renowned chefs, bee keepers from Afghanistan, a representative from the British Pig association, fishermen from France and any kind of food connection you could imagine, in between.

Slow Food Northern Ireland had a showcase stand (kindly funded by DEARA, Invest NI and Food NI) and we were able to show off some of our produce to the world. We were limited to ambient stock, but we had apple, herb and damson jellies, rapeseed oil, smoked dulse, seaweed salts, honey, tea, and beer.

The stand was a hub for the rest of the UK and became as much of a social area as it was a food stand. We had representatives from England and Wales volunteering to help us.

The Italians in particular couldn’t get enough of the Punjana tea we’d brought over! In a country where the nation doesn’t start until espresso has been consumed, they were going mad for their Irish breakfast tea and Titanic blend. Isabella Bruzzese is a native of Turin, now living in Ballycastle, who brews beer with her husband. She arrived on Friday and was our secret weapon for translating and spreading the word about our products. 

The festival encompassed the whole city of Turin, with events being held in all the Piazzas in the centre and taking over the university. Sellers from Europe, the Americas, Oceana, and Africa sold their wares from a sea of peaked white tents. You could buy coffee from Cuba, honey from Missouri, beans from Ethiopia, oysters from France and Irish raw milk cheeses, among the thousands of foodstuffs from around the globe. 

There were two Terra Madre kitchens where chef representatives from different countries cooked using produce from their country. My friend Romy Gill, who owns a restaurant in Bristol, was the UK chef and she cooked up a saddleback pork biryani.

Slow Food has an Ark of Taste where endangered foods from around the world, like rare breeds, heritage vegetables and fruits, are pledged to be protected. Peter Gott is a famous pig farmer from Cumbria (a young Jamie Oliver has long championed his pork) and he supplied the pork. I helped Romy in the kitchen and we sold 100 portions to raise funds for the Slow Food 10,000 gardens in Africa charity.

Last Saturday I had the task of cooking an Anglo/Ulster breakfast in the kitchen. Again Peter Gott provided Saddleback and wild boar bacon, black pudding and his own duck eggs.

I cooked soda farls, fried them in the crispy bacon fat and served it all with a duck egg hollandaise flavoured with smoked dulse. Soda farls are simple but freshly griddled and fried until golden will go down well anywhere and a hot morning in Turin was no exception.

Peter had driven to Turin from Cumbria, via a visit to cheese makers in Switzerland, with his son who makes St James cheese. Alongside his wonderful pork products, he brought Goosnargh cakes, his son’s cheese and Mrs Kirkham’s cheddar. Goosnargh is a village in Lancashire and the cakes are a caraway and coriander flavoured shortcake.

We’ve come a long way in the UK with our food. Fifteen years ago the rest of Europe shrugged contemptuously at our produce. Now they embrace it with gusto. Stichelton is a raw milk blue cheese from Nottinghamshire. It’s made by an American called Joe Schnieider. His stand was beside us in Turin and he sold 50 X 5kg cheeses in four days. The Italians compared it to Gorgonzola - the ultimate complement.

I’ve included Romy’s recipe for the biryani and one for the Goosnargh cakes - new and old Britain combined.

If you’re interested in Slow Food I’m helping to run a festival in Londonderry next weekend. It runs from 10am-6pm on Saturday 8th and Sunday, October 9, in Guildhall Square. It’s a free event with food, foraging, food trips for kids, chef demos and vegetable growing showcases.

Donegal-based TV chef Brian McDermott will be compering the event - come along for some complementary Slow Food cooking.