The Ark of Taste Docks at Cheese

The focus of the 2013 edition of Cheese was endangered foods. With a special focus on the Slow Food Ark of Taste – a project to catalog and protect traditional foods at risk of disappearing – we invited all those coming to the international festival in Bra, Italy, to bring along a sample of a cheese they wanted to save.

As the streets began to fill up, so too did the shelves in the Ark of Taste area. During the four-day event, a total of 250 diverse products were presented as nominations for the catalogue. Here we bring you a selection ten weird and wonderful products that we discovered.

Marcetto from Italy: Also known as Formaggio Puntato (pitted cheese), this cheese is characterised by the presence of saltarelli, or “hoppers”. These are maggots which grow inside the cheese. The basic ingredient of Marcetto is over-ripe pecorino cheese and the cheesemaking process consists solely of the steps necessary to salvage the “bad” pecorino. Marcetto is produced throughout the region of Abruzzo, but the version from the Upper Teramo area is particularly prized. The ageing process lasts for about a year. Inside, the cheese is pale pink, creamy and has an extremely tangy flavor while the aroma is strong and pungent.

Latte d’asina (donkey milk) from Italy: Found in the southern region of Basilicata, it has traditionally been used for young children during their growth phases, as a substitute for mother’s milk. It is also used during other periods of life such as puberty or menopause because of its health characteristics. Produced only for the local market, its limited consumption puts it at risk of extinction.

Janu Sier from Lativa: A half-cooked, half-curdled cheese, it is prepared by heating (never boiling) cow’s milk and adding whole eggs, salt and caraway. The cheese can either be eaten when it is still warm, accompanied by honey; or after a few weeks once it has hardened. The cheese has a special role during the traditional Summer Solstice celebration, when families stay up all night preparing local dishes to be eaten with close friends and relatives. Any family member that chooses to sleep is considered ‘lazy’, and legend holds that they will remain lazy all summer long. On June 24, a special celebration for everyone named ‘John’ takes place, in which the cheese (sier) named John (Janu) is prepared and consumed.

Kargi Tulum from Turkey: A semi-hard cheese with a crumbly texture, it is produced in the Kargı district of Çorum province. The cheese is produced by small-scale dairies using whole raw sheep, goat, cow or buffalo milk, or a mixture of these, with no added lactic starters. Its name comes from its production process: It is pressed and aged in tulum – goat or lamb skin. Hygiene rules and procedures enforced due to the EU accession period have put this product at risk. In addition, many young people are now leaving rural areas and moving to cities. Three years ago there were 150 producers, today this number is just 25-30.

Murtrit from Italy: This cheese is a smoked ricotta connected to the Upper Elvo Raw Milk Butter Presidium in Piedmont. After the production of butter, the cheese is made from the leftover whey. Pepper is added, and the cheese is smoked over local varieties of wood. It is eaten grated over pasta or boiled potatoes. With fewer wood burning stoves and fireplaces now being used, its production is declining and only two or three producers remain. The cattle breed used is also at risk of extinction.

Pirot Mixed Hard Cheese from Serbia: Originating in Stara Planina, near the town of Pirot, this cheese used to be very well known and exported worldwide, including to the US. Today it is still produced, however most of the dairies are in the lowlands and use pasteurized milk and mechanized methods. Only few producers have remained in the mountain pastures, still using raw milk and traditional manual techniques.

Ricotta Ossolana di Andorra Mascherpa from Italy: Produced using the whey from cow’s milk, it is smoked over coals of juniper wood, and aged for between one month and a year, it becomes a hard cheese. In the tradition of the Walser population (a German speaking group that lives in Ossola) the cheese is grated over a plate of hot, boiled potatoes with diced herbs and onions. In Piedmont, ricotta is often called by the name “Mascherpa” (other variants exist), a term with Lombard origins that originally referred to any fresh or white cheese. The word “mascarpone” also comes from this despite belonging to a totally different cheesemaking practice.

Skyr from Iceland: A fresh acid-curd cheese, made from skim milk, it is a very soft cheese traditionally consumed as a full meal. Today it is normally sweetened with fruit or sugar, and enjoyed with cream or milk during breakfast, or as a snack. Skyr is a traditional product, mentioned in medieval Icelandic literature. Remnants of products similar to Skyr have also been found in archaeological excavations of medieval farms in Iceland.

Turkmen Sacak from Turkey: A string-shaped, odorless, semi-soft cheese produced in Kars and Ardahan in East Anatolia. Usually made with cow’s milk (but sometimes sheep’s) it gets its stringy shape during the curdling process. As the curd is stretched, it is rubbed with salt continuously until it becomes similar to thin angel hair pasta. The cheese can then be preserved in a cold place for 1-2 years. Before consumption, it is soaked in water to remove excess salt. Due to the hygiene rules and procedures enforced due to the EU accession period and advancing mechanization, producers (normally women) are finding it hard to get a production license.

Caprini di Trasquera from Italy: A goat cheese from the Italian Alps. Home to 13 different recognized goat breeds, the region represents a wealth of biodiversity. The last remaining Vallesana Red and Vallesana Grey goats can be found in the valleys around Trasquera; once widespread, today they risk extinction. The cheese was brought to the Ark of Taste stand by Giuseppe Paltani who explained that the recovery of this breed and the dairy traditions associated with it must start in Trasquera: It represents an opportunity to safeguard the agricultural and pastoral activities of the mountains.

Find the facebook album of these 10 cheeses here

Find more images of “Cheese Savers“ from this year’s event here

Find out more about the Ark of Taste catalogue of endangered products here:

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