Terra Madre in Torino: Salone del Gusto
Imagine a convention center, filled with rows upon rows of Italian regional specialties and available for sample or purchase, abuzz with Italians (and a few other nationalities as well) eating, drinking, strolling, chatting, and ducking outside to smoke. It is the Salone del Gusto, and it is a world of food ranging from sea salt, balsamic vinegar, gianduja (hazelnut chocolate), prosciutti, Parmigiano and all the famous cheeses. When one thinks one has tasted all of Italy, one realizes that the Salone del Gusto is not just Italian regional specialties, but includes many other European countries, and indeed representative foods and drinks from around the globe. One might need a quiet cup of mint tea. Unable to find mint tea, instead I tasted a raw-milk provolone cheese, one version aged six months and one version aged two years. The 24 month cheese changed the meaning of sharp Italian provolone for me; it sparkled and sang in my mouth, and its rustic shape and imbedded cord begged to be slung over a shoulder and carried away.
Overwhelmed, I noticed that some stalls featured the Slow Food Presidia emblem — these are items from around the world that have been identified as totally unique and culturally important, items in which the Slow Food Foundation has invested time and energy (and money) to preserve, document, and encourage continued production. I toured these items, enjoying the native dress and languages of people from South America, India, Greece, Japan, Oceania. Dazed, I happened upon an artisanal Italian brewing company called Birra Pasturana, and tasted their wares. In his halting English and my entirely food-based Italian, we ‘spoke’ of the importance of quality lupulo (hops, ironically Cascade, which is considered an American hop for its market-shifting role in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) and he told me of resting a beer in a white-wine barrel for six months – they call that one ‘the Mummy’ because it rises from the tomb at the end of its aging. I asked about their method for making a peach beer, and I’m not kidding, he began with ‘…we take the wagon into the peach orchard…’. No food-grade flavorings there. I felt refreshed.
Refreshed enough to buy some oysters from Brittany, France, pulled alive out of wooden crates and pried opened right in front of me. Seasoned with lemon juice and aimed down my gullet, the pulsing oyster could only be described as More than a Mouthful – I had to chew to get it down, and while technically it was probably dead by then, it was still pulsing as I swallowed. I realize now that I prefer a smaller oyster; and perhaps I am not prepared to eat oysters standing right in front of the oystermen themselves, chewing and choking and trying to swallow. Unfortunately the tequila bar was not handy.