Let’s Defend the Mountains!

High-altitude producers from around the world at Cheese 2015

Cheesemakers, herders, producers and farmers who live and work every day in the mountains are facing a critical situation. In the last 60 years, industrial development and urbanization have progressively depopulated mountain areas around the world and many of the activities linked to traditional cheese production have vanished. Mountain communities have many obstacles—topographical, regulatory and social—that they must overcome on a daily basis.

Despite this, mountains are still home to an extraordinary heritage of ecosystems, plant varieties, animal breeds, cultures and foods. Dairy animals grazing on biodiversity-rich pastures, fresh raw milk, transhumance (the seasonal migration of livestock) and artisanal techniques are some of the factors that determine the quality of mountain cheeses.

Slow Food has been working to support those remaining cheesemakers and herders for many years, and Cheese offers an opportunity to celebrate and promote them.

Mountain Presidia protect rural producers of honey, breads, wild herbs, wine, grains and cured meats, as well as cheeses, that would otherwise disappear. These producers preserve and pass down ancient practices, maintaining the pastures (including the most extreme, at 2,000 to 2,500 meters) that would otherwise turn wild.

Many mountain Presidia and Ark of Taste products will be at Cheese. From Italy, we’ll have Heritage Bitto, Tuma Macagn, Upper Elvo Raw Milk Butter, Sole, Rabbi and Pejo Valleys Casolét, Moena Puzzone and High Mountain Honeys. From Bulgaria will come the Presidium for cheese made with milk from the Karakachan Sheep and Tcherni Vit Green Cheese, and from Romania Branza de Burduf, made on the slopes of the Bucegi mountains, some of the highest peaks in the Carpathians. There will also be Rove Brousse Goat Cheese from France and the Presidia for mountain Vacherin, Emmentaler and Sbrinz from Switzerland. From Poland, Oscypek from the Tatra mountains, home to the Batza, an ancient shepherding community.

Mavrovo Reka Mountain Pasture Cheeses will come from Macedonia, including Kashkaval made from Shaplaninska sheep’s milk and Bieno Sirenje. From Turkey, Türkmen Saçak and Kars Gravyeri, at risk of dying out due to increased mechanization of the cheesemaking process, the decline of native cattle breeds and rigid European Union regulations.  

During the four days of the event, we’ll hear the stories of these and other cheeses, and learn about the challenges they face. The conference Mountain Stories: Products and Projects for Relaunching Higher Lands, will explore tools that can be used to protect herders, cheesemakers and farmers who choose to stay in the mountains and promote the work of new generations who are investing in the future of these places.

The recent trend of new generations repopulating the mountains is still faint, yet significant nonetheless. One example comes from the Bitto Presidium in the Italian region of Lombardy, where the youngest producer is just 18 and her fellow cheesemakers are in their 20s or 30s. A whole generation has taken the place of their parents.

Then there are stories of producers who have chosen to once again make their own starter cultures, opposing commercial substitutes and standardization. And stories of resistance against overly strict hygiene rules, as in Bulgaria, where the producers of Tcherni Vit green cheese are fighting to preserve an ancient production practice under threat from a rigid interpretation of the law.

The Taste Workshop Border Cheeses East of the Alps will focus on virtuous products that help promote the mountain economy and keep the Alpine areas alive. Cheeses from along the borders of northeast Italy, Austria and Slovenia will be tasted: Formadi Frant from Friuli Venezia Giulia, Aurina Valley Graukäse from Trentino Alto Adige and Grappa Mountain Morlacco from Veneto, all Slow Food Presidia, as well as Tolminc from the Soca-Isonzo Valley in Slovenia and Bergkäse (whose name literally means mountain cheese) from the Bregenz forest in Austria. 

These cheeses show that when placed at the center of a strategic plan, food production can be one of the most effective driving forces behind the relaunch of a region through the promotion of local economies. So why is there not yet a political strategy that reflects the enormous potential held by the mountains? 

The distance between politics and the mountains and the lack of tools for action have over the years contributed to the marginalization and devaluation of these places, which have become ever more vulnerable. Cheese 2015 is an opportunity to debate this issue.

In What Kind of Agreements Can Help the Future of the Pastures?, we’ll ask what the Alps would look like without pastures. Issues linked to the right to land and the difficulties of accessing the auctions of public pastures will be discussed together with mayors, farmers and politicians, looking at the idea of a pact between institutions, municipalities and herders to overcome obstacles and reimagine the mountain areas as an opportunity rather than a problem to be solved.

The Biodiversity Piazza will be welcoming cheeses, honeys, vegetables, legumes, tubers, fruits, wild herbs and other products cultivated or harvested in the mountains around the world, from the Andes to the Caucasus via the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Apennines. A kitchen set up in the piazza will offer the chance to sample gastronomic specialties associated with mountain traditions, prepared by Slow Food network chefs.

Cheese 2015 has been made possible by the support of companies who believe in the future of the quality dairy sector, including the Official Partners: Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano, Lurisia, Pastificio Di Martino and Radeberger Gruppe Italia.

Cheese is an international biennial event organized by the City of Bra and Slow Food. Dedicated to milk in all its shapes and forms, the event has led to the formation of an international network of cheesemakers and dairy artisans, and is currently on its tenth edition.

For further information, please contact the Slow Food International Press Office:

Paola Nano, +39 329 8321285, [email protected]

Città di Bra: Raffaele Grillo – Elena Martini, +39 0172 438278, [email protected]
 old.slowfood.com –  www.comune.bra.cn.it

Slow Food involves millions of people who follow the philosophy of good, clean and fair food. The network is made up of enthusiasts, chefs, experts, young people, food producers, fishers and academics in over 150 countries. It includes 100,000 Slow Food members worldwide, who belong to 1,500 local chapters. Their membership fee helps to fund the association, and they participate in many locally organized events. The network also includes the 2,000 Terra Madre food communities, who are committed to sustainable, small-scale food production.




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