Nothing cheesy about cheese

The politics of provision are heating up as Slow Food’s symbolic snail sets out to establish global power. Right now the fuel of that crusade is raw milk.

Established in 1986 in Bra, Italy, the Slow Food movement is a worldwide organisation. (There are active groups in Johannesburg and Cape Town.)

Positioned as a counter-balance to the present, fashionable boogie of rampant globalisation, Slow Food is high news.
A few weeks ago it made the cover story of Newsweek magazine.

With tentacles stretching and reaching every shackle in the real and metaphysical food chain, Slow Food in Italy is gearing up for what could possibly be the world’s most significant cheese festival. The moral dimension to the event takes the form of a campaign against pasteurised milk.

At the moment raw milk is the real stuff of the global food debate. It produces the finest cheeses in the world, but also whips up the greatest reticence among artisan dairy farmers. More and more the latter are objecting to prescriptions from what they perceive as the heartless, interfering bureaucrats in the European Union.

The most famous cheeses in the world are made from untreated milk. Slow Food’s biennial festival in celebration of the finest and rarest, Cheese 2001: All the Shapes of Milk, takes place in Bra from September 21 to 24. If you’re a cheese fundi or nut -— and there are many of us out there — you will not want to miss this.

The third of a biennial event, Cheese 2001 comprises tastings, workshops, food outings and research reports. More than 100 000 visitors and 300 journalists are expected — and they’re expected to eat five tons of 200 types of cheese.

According to Slow Food, Cheese 2001 will emphasise the cultural aspect of the event by focusing on the central theme of raw milk cheeses. An international conference takes up the subject ‘The secret of high quality is raw milk”.

Cheese 2001 will provide a platform for promoting the cultural value of raw milk cheeses, as well as their taste, for these products represent the art of cheese production at its best. Slow Food drew up a manifesto in their defence some time ago.

Raw milk makes for a strong, emotional cause. In the latest Slow — the organisation’s bimonthly magazine, which devotes each issue to a specific culinary subject, this time, obviously, cheese — an erstwhile organic dairy farmer, Julian Rose, writes: ‘Unpasteurised milk is a powerful symbol of real food. Generations upon generations of country people have benefited from its remarkable health-giving properties and delectable flavours.”

In South Africa this issue is hardly up for discussion. The law says you can use unpasteurised milk for cheese production but it must age for at least six weeks before you sell it. Presumably this kills off any harmful bacteria.

Although two ‘national cheese festivals” in Franschhoek have certainly put our own cheese in the spotlight and have drawn the crowds, the ingredients that result in those very special, unusual cheeses still need attention. The star performers made by devoted dairy people need to be identified. Some fans question the presence of the large producers of sliced-cheese-in-plastic.

At the past festival the star of the show — in terms of originality, at least — was Nguni cheese from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Made from Nguni cow milk, pundits agreed that this was a cheese unlike any other. Where cheese craftsmen usually copy the classic European styles (fake Camembert and Brie the leading examples), this yellowish, firm, nutty cheese has a distinctive identity. Not only enchantingly delicious, it is unashamedly South African.

This is very much up the alley of Slow Food disciples, who are keen to promote individuality and devotion to food craft. The food-political wave of raw milk will not just yet carry the Nguni cheese to the Bra festivities, but we’re sure to get to know its impact better as South Africans come to terms with real food.

Slow Food’s biennial festival Cheese 2001: All the Shapes of Milk, takes place in Bra, Italy, from September 21 to 24. For more information about Cheese 2001, check the Slow Food website:

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