Slow Food Shows Off the World’s Best Food

Small producers from throughout the United States will exhibit their delicious wares at the 2010 Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy next month. Look at some of these entries and imagine YOUR produce or cheese or microbrew beer at some point in the future, joining 7,000 other producers, food organizations and chefs from every continent on the planet. The event is presented every year by Slow Food International, which is a driving force behind the food revolution that’s taking place all over the globe these days. The whole conversation about fresh, local food began almost 30 years ago when Italian food advocate Carlo Petrini first began writing about food that is good, clean and fair.

Slow Food is defined as food that tastes good, is produced in a clean way that doesn’t harm the environment, animals or our own health, and for which food producers receive fair compensation. I agree with the organization’s principles that everyone has a fundamental right to pleasure and to the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make pleasure possible. GRIT readers have long understood the connection between plate and planet, so this isn’t really much of a stretch for us.

These are some of the events that showcase our country’s gastronomic accomplishments. If you ever want to taste the entire world, find a way to attend this event. It will change your life, I promise you (My former band performed there two years ago and it was an experience over which I will never get!).

Anishinaabeg Manoomin Wild Rice

For generations the Native American Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) harvested manoomin, or wild rice, by paddling among the plants in canoes and beating the seed into the bottom of their boats. The rice was then slowly dried over a wood fire. Now, wild rice has been domesticated and more than 95 percent of the crop is cultivated. The presidium promotes the Anishinaabeg who still hand-gather manoomin. Wild rice (Zizania palustris) is actually an aquatic grass, and is more closely related to corn than to rice. It has a rich and delicious flavor with notes of wood smoke and chestnuts. The presidium works with existing conservation and policy initiatives developed by the White Earth Land Recovery Project to promote consumption of traditionally harvested and prepared wild rice.

Production area: Anishinaabeg tribal lands, Great Lakes region

Navajo-Churro Sheep

The hardy churro sheep breed–with its multi-colored double fleece–was brought by the Spaniards to Mexico by 1540, and arrived overland in northern New Mexico by 1598. Over four hundred years, this multi-purpose breed has adapted to the arid conditions of the sagebrush steppe and pinyon-juniper pygmy woodlands of the mesas, buttes and desert canyons of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. Now called the Navajo-Churro sheep, its carpet-quality wool has been used by Hispanic, Diné (Navajo) and Pueblo Indian weavers to produce world-renowned rugs, saddle blankets, coats and vests. Relying on native forage of the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau, the sheep also provided “sage-fed” lamb and mutton, central to their sustenance as well as religious ceremonies.

Production area: Navajo Nation lands, Colorado Plateau region, encompassing the four corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah

Makah Ozette Potato

The Makah occupy the region around Neah Bay, Washington. In 2004 phylogenetic analysis conducted at Washington State University provided evidence that the Makah Ozette potato (Solanum Tuberosum) was certain to have been imported directly from South America by Spanish conquerors. In the spring of 1791 the Spanish had established a fort at Neah Bay and planted a kitchen garden that would have included potatoes from their previous bases in South America. Over the winter of 1791 the Spanish found the weather conditions in the harbor too severe to maintain their ships and they abandoned the fort and the garden whose resources were subsequently exploited by the neighboring tribes. Not until the late 1980’s was this potato grown outside the Makah Nation. The firm flesh and creamy texture of this thin-skinned knobby potato and its unique nutty, earthy flavor are appreciated by home cooks as well as chefs.

Production area: Northwest Washington State

Cape May Oyster

The American East Coast Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) of the Delaware Bay was one of the most prized and highly sought-after oysters in the world. In addition to being a mainstay of the economy of this isolated rural area of the State, the oyster industry also created a demand for a vast array of auxiliary commercial activities. Overfishing, pollution, increased water temperatures and species-specific diseases all led to a crisis that saw oysters decrease in both number and size. The Cape May Oyster Slow Food Presidium supports selected producers and harvesters as they begin to use an environmentally friendly system of cultivation, and promotes the work of the few remaining Cape May oyster fishermen by actively helping them to develop the local and international market for the Cape May Oysters. A first promotional initiative has been very successful at the Plaza Hotel in New York City which now regularly serves raw Cape May oysters in its Oyster Bar.

Production area:Cape May, Delaware Bay, New Jersey

Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple

The once-vast Gravenstein apple orchards in Sonoma County have suffered a serious decline, due to the more profitable vineyards, and the difficulties in growing the delicate fruit. Most of the Sebastopol growers farm land that has been in apple production for over a century. Among thousands of California apple varieties, the heirloom Gravenstein is widely regarded as one of the best eating and baking apples. A fine balance of sweet and tart, its full-bodied flavor intensifies when made into sauce, juice, cider or vinegar. The apples also hold their shape beautifully in pies and tarts. Despite the importance of this Danish apple variety – introduced to the county in 1811 by Russian trappers – only eight producers still grow them commercially. The Presidium works to promote and protect farmers who nurture their apples from tree to table.

Production area: Sebastopol, Sonoma County, California

American Raw Milk Cheeses

The first American cheeses were modeled on English and Dutch cheese and later German and Italian ones as immigrants brought their cheese-making skills and traditions to the New World. Over the past few decades, new American cheesemakers, often women, have created a wide spectrum of innovative artisan cheeses. The cheeses included in this Presidium project have a few common denominators: they are made with raw milk from either the cheesemaker’s or a local farm, and created by individuals with a strong commitment to sustainable agriculture and artisan production. Slow Food has created this presidium project – which includes 24 producers and 31 cheeses from across the United States – to promote the production of high quality raw milk cheeses in the USA.

Production area: United States