Monday, September 21, 2009

Benvenutti a Tutti da Bra!

This week's dispatch is being spirited to your inboxes across an ocean and a few countries in between. Saxelby Cheesemongers hit the road last week to come to the small, lovely town of Bra, in the Piedmont region of Italy. The area is home to a great many culinary delights including raw Piemontese sausage, noble wines, white truffles, and humble snails. Or as the Italians would say, le lumache.

It seems fitting that the snail has a privileged place in local gastronomy, as Bra is also the birthplace of Slow Food. Some odd years ago an incredible man named Carlo Petrini turned his hometown upside down when he decided to start the incredible, benevolent organization we know as Slow Food. From that man and his passion for food that is good, clean, and fair, sprung an organization that now spans the globe, touching places as large as New York City and as small as the clusters of islands that pepper the coast of Greece.

Every two years, grazie a Slow Food, the cosmos converge, the Milky Way of course taking center stage, and the festival we call Cheese pops up in the town of Bra like a cluster of mushrooms after a delicate rain. What is Cheese? Nothing more and nothing less than an international gathering of cheesemakers, cheesemongers , affineurs, and cheese lovers. Over the course of four days, Bra is filled up to the gills with revelry, white tents line the streets and colonize the piazze as hundreds of thousands of hungry turophiles descend and sample cheeses that range from the sublime to the downright strange.

I myself ate what some might consider an embarassing amount of cheese at Cheese. Were I weighing it in on a scale I might have fainted as the total racheted up over the course of the weekend. Thankfully I'm much too disorganized to do anything of the sort, and know that in the end I can just chock it all up to a hefty dose of R&D for my own internal cheese file. I ate blues so moldy that I was hard pressed to find a spot of white, multi-tiered local cheeses shaped like wedding cakes, creamy and tangy mozzarella di bufala, raw goats' milk cheeses from England of unsurpassed delicacy, light pasta filata cheese from Japan dipped in soy sauce, fine stout mountain cheeses from Bavaria and the Jura that were alternately robust and steak-like to fruity, sweet, and caramel-esque. The list goes on and on... Sitting here in the piazza looking over at all the tents, I am already nostalgic, hoping 2011 will come tumbling through the hourglass a bit quicker than it should!

This year was the first year that American cheeses were represented at Cheese, and what a grand success it was! By Sunday afternoon, with more than a full day of fromaging left to do, the Americans sold out of every last morsel of cheese there was to be had. Pleasant Ridge Reserve was sliced and diced and cleared out by Saturday afternoon, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawks were scooped up by the dozen, Vermont Butter and Cheese Coupoles dotted many an Italian dinner table, and blues like Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen and Rogue Creamery's Blue made even the most devout of gorgonzola-ites swoon.

For many Cheese-goers, it was the first time they tasted American cheese. French, Italian, British, German, Swiss, Dutch, Japanese swung by the American counter, taking it all in (literally) and praising the fine and tasty work of our cheesemakers. I had the good fortune to be on the stand for a while, slicing up bits of Twig Farm's Goat Tomme, speaking my pigeon Italian with the locals. I asked them again and again, is this the first time you've had American cheese? And throughout the day the answer was a resounding yes. Then I'd ask them, well, what do you think? And as only true Italians can do, they'd do a little shake of the hand or a little lilt of the head that speaks volumes. Buonissimo! Was the unanimous decree.

We'll have to wait two years for the next Cheese, but in the meantime can bask in the immense satisfaction of having American cheeses on the Slow Food map in Bra! As soon as I come home, there'll be a mess of pictures to check out on the photo section of our website. Till next week, eat lots of American cheese and be happy!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Henry Hudson Makes a Market!

New Amsterdam Market is back in action, just in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage to the river that now bears his name. Join Saxelby Cheesemongers this Sunday at the old Fulton Fish Market for New Amsterdam's inaugural market of the season!

New Amsterdam Market

Sunday, September 13th
11:00 am to 4:00 pm
South Street (btw Beekman and Peck Slip)

It's easy to forget what made this little island such a compelling place to explorers when Hudson sailed into the harbor 400 years ago. The Hudson River, broad and wide and reaching deep into the land was called the key to the continent by some. The location of the island of Manhattan, sandwiched between the Hudson and the East River (a salty tidal strait) was an ideal place for settlement and trade because it had one of very few harbors that did not freeze completely over in the wintertime.

The southernmost tip of Manhattan was the first part of the island to be settled, and had all the 17th century frills... a fort, a wall, a smattering of homes and small businesses, and of course, a market district. Since the 1600's, the South Street Seaport area has been the city's marketplace. It has known many incarnations, most recently being home to the famous and sometimes infamous Fulton Street Fish market. The culture of the marketplace, its vendors, their sweat, the near-constant movement of goods, the haggling, the wheeling and dealing, the conviviality of it all are have smoothed and weathered the cobblestones, literally making up the mortar between them.

Today, that part of the city floats in a rather uncertain place. The fish market has moved north to the Bronx, there are historic ships moored at the docks, and there is still commerce, though confined to an odd shopping mall that juts out into the river on Pier 17. The empty market stalls and cobbled streets are in limbo, in search of a purpose that will do justice to their history and revive the neighborhood. What better way to do that than a public market? Public markets have served as gathering places since time immemorial, places for exchange of goods, but also places of great social and civic importance.

Were New Amsterdam Public to achieve its intention of establishing a permanent public market, it would turn New Yorkers collective pantries around. Locally sourced products, animal, vegetable, and mineral would be available to urbanites, sourced and sold by expert purveyors. The streets would spring to life each morning as the merchants built up displays spilling over with their wares. The subsequent bustle of shoppers, watchers, and people from all walks of life would swell through the streets and eddy at the end of each day, mimicking the tides that make the rivers flow.

Join us at the Seaport this Sunday to eat, shop, and reinvigorate the public market!

Till next week....