Slow Food Hall of Taste, Italy

The Salone del Gusto, or hall of taste may not be what you think of when someone mentions slow food. It is, however, greenfoodie paradise!

Enjoy the article and then check out more from Slow Food and SBS Food.

by Matthew Evans for SBS food – 7th January 2011

Slow Food. It makes you think of crock-pots and braises. Of winter stews and long-cooked chickpeas. But Slow Food, the organisation, isn’t slow cooking. It’s Italy’s answer to fast food, and what it loses in translation it makes up for in philosophy.

Slow Food, from my understanding, is about preserving tradition, but not just preserving it for tradition’s sake. It’s about restoring and keeping the good old ways of doing things, and maybe reinventing some old ways using new methods, to maintain culture, variety and, most of all, quality. The old fashioned way is only better if it’s good for the land, the environment, for society and if the result tastes terrific. Otherwise, it’s not worth preserving. The idea is to celebrate humanity’s wondrous differences, using great flavoured food as the base. A meal shared is a fundamental of every society. Good food binds communities and nations; it binds us as a species.
Salone del Gusto: Hall of Taste
Every two years, Slow Food hosts a huge food event – the largest in the world, they reckon – at the former Fiat factory in Turin, in North West Italy. Called Salone del Gusto, it means the Hall of Taste. In reality, it’s three halls containing hundreds of small, artisan producers from around the world. Imagine all the great foods you’ve never heard of: purple asparagus from Albenga; Cinta Sinese pigs from Tuscany; game birds from the UK; and nougat from France, all on the one site. Add about 1,500 wines from around Italy, all available by the glass, and you get the picture: Seriously good, artisan quality food, available to the masses.

I went along in 2010 as a delegate to Slow Food’s Terra Madre, a companion event to the Hall of Taste, which is held right next door at the same time. Terra Madre translates as Mother Earth, and is a meeting place where farmers, fishers, producers, educators and policy makers come together. It’s where Pacific Islander market gardeners can talk to African grain growers.

I went because I’m fascinated by the possibilities for artisan food in Australia, in particular artisan goods made from the pig. I wanted to meet other, like-minded pork producers; those, perhaps like me, with old, rare breeds that exist outside the commercial norm. Producers with only a tiny number of high-value, free-range animals – animals that haven’t been bred to be confined on factory farms. Those who believe in a system that isn’t all about profit, but also about taste. I was given a pass as a writer, farmer and pork producer. The Terra Madre section included a lot of talk about policy and not as much about great food. Brilliant as it was to meet people who research fish farming, or specialise in lobbying the US government to preserve city-side farmland to create local food bowls, I wanted to see what was going in the greater world of food as it is meant to be enjoyed – that is, eaten. Discussing the definition of pleasure in a room full of bureaucrats wasn’t as interesting as the pleasure in the Salone next door. It’s like talking about sex rather than partaking.

Food as pleasure
So I spent most of my time at Slow gorging on pig products and more at the Hall of Taste. I discovered speck (cured and air-dried pork bellies) the size of blankets from the Italy’s alpine region, which made the fat pigs I try to sell at markets look like supermodels. Smothered with pepper, and laid out in the open (safely, according to EU rules; take note Australian health officials), they were being tasted, and bought, by visitors of all ages. Imagine my joy at finding people unafraid of fat. I watched as lithe 22-year-old women tipped their heads back and slipped lardo down their throats, laughing with pleasure as they did so. Lardo isn’t just prosciutto or speck with lots of fat on; it’s pure back fat, cured in marble boxes in salt, the best from the town of Colonnata. I know that in places like the US and Australia, we try to sneak it onto restaurant menus as “white prosciutto”. But to sell pure fat to the public and have them rejoicing at the thought? Now this was something new.

To me, this concept of pleasure was the key. People at Salone, and in Italy generally, don’t see food as their enemy. Traditional foods are all about pleasure and not fear. Take fat as the easy example that relates to my favourite topic – pork. Fat, to those who have a deep cultural knowledge about these things, is flavour, sometimes stunningly great flavour. It’s better to have the high-energy part of food tasting of something rather than the way we often do in Australia; hidden in chips or as trans-fats in pastry margarine. Food is a daily joy to be savoured and rejoiced in. If it’s a melting peach, give praise. If it’s a Basque dried bean that needs no soaking prior to cooking, give thanks. If it’s the chicken livers from old breed black chickens, raise your eyes to heaven and your glasses to each other.

I watched, mesmerised, as the fantastic dusky red cherries of Italy’s south were sold in wonderful almond cakes, scented with local honey. There were small, intense tomatoes with nipple-shape ends, which are falling out of favour compared to less flavoursome varieties because the skins are thicker than those of hybrids. I tasted chestnuts so sweet they don’t need sugar when cooked. Of the 900 plus stalls, I visited just a few. Spreadable, low-salt salami (nduja) from Italy’s toe, Calabria? You bet. This is cured for a year in a stomach, and there’s no added cultures or nitrates. It’s bright red, and low in salt, because the local chilli – peperoncino – acts to preserve the meat.

There were mulberries from Tajikistan, beans from Sweden, raw-milk cheeses from Switzerland. You could spend a whole day just tasting cheese, and another tasting pork, really, if that took your fancy.

These products alone were inspiring enough; I was able to see what is possible, EU regulations permitting, in an older country that has a vibrant culinary history, a place that has done all the research. To eat things which are completely safe, yet not allowed, or far more difficult to get approval for, in Australia. To realise that a passion for great tasting food isn’t the preserve of a small middle class, but the calling of farmers, peasants, fishers and growers from around the globe.

The best experiences? A chance meeting with James Swift, who has battled English regulators to make traditional air-dried ham (prosciutto/jamón/jambon) in the UK where, like here, they don’t have a tradition of it and the authorities treat it as suspicious. Another stand-out was the organic pig farmers from Sweden, who grow virtually all of their feed on the farm and have to heat their pig huts because free-range in Sweden means a thick blanket of snow in winter, which is much harder on the sows than in Tasmania. Then there are the huge hordes of young people who flooded Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto ready to learn; to preserve traditions they’ve only read about; to champion good taste.

Australia’s got plenty to learn
Most of all, this trip made me realise, yet again, that those who say Australia has the best produce in the world either need to get out more, or are deluded. Most have something to sell (provedores, chefs, food writers like me). The Hall of Taste at Slow Food convinced me that, yes, we do have some great things in Oz, but we have so much more yet to discover, so much more potential, and so many opportunities to learn from those that have gone before.

If we want to have the best food in the world, we have to pursue it consciously. It will take a lot of small- and medium-sized producers who recognise quality isn’t about shelf life and transportability. It will take retailers who don’t prize appearance above all else. It will mean that consumers may need to know that most food is seasonal – even seafood and potatoes. And it will take forward-thinking policy makers and legislators who realise that processed cheese may well only be safer than raw-milk cheese because it contains so little nutritional value. (Bugs tend to like the same nutrients as our bodies do.) The reality is that we can make artisan produce, grow fantastic ingredients, and eat food as good as anywhere in the world. We’re just not doing that much of it yet.

Being at Slow Food’s flagship event in Italy was a revelation in terms of what is possible. Yes, we can become one of the globe’s great food cultures if we take all that is good and right from everywhere around the world and use it in our own way, to embellish our own culture. The good news is that – thanks to farmers’ markets and our desire to eat well at home and out – we’ve taken our first baby steps along that path.

Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it,
tell a friend
about it, and subscribe to the blog RSS feed.

Leave A Comment

Analytics Plugin made by VLC Media Player