IMAGINE a huge hangar filled with stalls overflowing with all manner of diverse produce: slabs of supple lavender-honey nougat from France, salt from evaporating seawater using thermal power in Iceland, Sarawak pepper, Mexican mescal, sesame seeds from Burkina Faso, raw milk cheese from the United States and Ireland, Croatian olives, endangered varieties of Indonesian rice or acorn-fed jamon Iberico from Spain.
You are in the Terra Madre ‘‘Market Place’’ in the massive Lingotto Fiere centre in Torino, Italy, in October, and this is just a small sample of what is on offer from 1000 exhibitors from 400 food communities and 100 countries.
And next door three more massive pavilions display Italy’s gastronomic diversity and celebration of taste.
Welcome to Salone del Gusto.
Every two years the city of Torino in the north-west of Italy hosts an event organised by Slow Food, to bring together small-scale farmers, producers and artisans and show an extraordinary diversity of food from every continent.
This year, for the first time, the 9th Salone del Gusto and the 4th Terra Madre World Meeting of Food Communities occurred simultaneously, attracting 220,000 visitors over five days.
Those visitors came to eat deep fried olive all’Ascolana, delicate fritto misto and sweet ricotta stuffed cannoli from the Italian street food market.
They came to taste at least a small selection from the 1200 wines in the large Enoteca arena.
They came to sample a vast range of cheeses, delicious prosciutto crudo and other charcuterie from all over Europe.
They came to taste wonderfully marbled lamb from a small producer (500 head of sheep) in Iceland, semi-dried tomatoes from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, wild oysters from Brittany and Holland, and all manner of breads, chocolate, coffee, oils, grains, spices, honeys, fruits and vegetables – all of which are produced following the Slow Food principles of ‘‘good, clean and fair’’.
The visitors stayed to learn from such food luminaries as Italy’s top chef, Massimo Bottura (recently on MasterChef and at the Sydney Crave Festival) and UK’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his team from the River Cottage.
Over the five days of the event, conferences were open to the public for the first time and covered topics such as the right to food, land grabbing, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, the link between health and food, climate change and animal welfare.
The focus of Terra Madre was a project called ‘‘A thousand gardens in Africa’’, which was launched in 2010 by Slow Food to sustain local communities in 25 African countries by creating a thousand food gardens.
To commemorate this, a 400-square metre food garden was created at the centre of the African exhibition area to display a range of produce grown in the gardens.
Australia’s Stephanie Alexander spoke eloquently on her Kitchen Garden Foundation, raising enormous interest. Speakers from India, Ireland, Uganda, Indonesia and the US addressed the global issues of childhood obesity and diabetes and noted the importance of introducing children to food and its sources at an early age, and involving children in food production and preparation.
It was even more gratifying to see the hoards of Italian school children descending each day to participate in events organised specifically for them; or 20 toque-wearing budding chefs enthralled by the preparation and cooking of vegetables.
While dialogues were an important aspect, most were here to taste.
In spite of its position in the farthest corner of the Terra Madre market place, the Australian flag at the Slow Food Hunter Valley stand was a strong drawcard.
Peter Watson and Kerry Wilson from The Newcastle Pudding Lady, Simply Stirred, and Hill & River products were in demand to explain the mysteries of traditional Christmas pudding, and flavoured salad dressings and marinades.
Many came to taste Ross and Derice McDonald’s Macquariedale organic shiraz wine.
The highlight for the Slow Food group and the nine Terra Madre delegates had to be the invitation to cook an ‘‘Aussie barbecue’’ in the Terra Madre International Kitchen. It was the chance to show off NSW organic beef and lamb.
More than 100 lined up for a plate comprising a two-cutlet rack of lamb, three slices of lamb tenderloin, a beef sausage, a beef, capsicum and bay-leaf skewer, their choice of Simply Stirred relish, and a roasted chat potato – all for just €10 ($12.50), with a glass of Macquariedale wine an extra €5 ($6).
It was all cooked to perfection by Newcastle chef Tim Montgomery of Bacchus and Carl Kenzler from Ritual at Nelson Bay.
Attendance by the Hunter delegates at Terra Madre was the culmination of two years planning and fund-raising engineered by Slow Food Hunter Valley’s indefatigable leader, Amorelle Dempster.
Dempster spoke of the high level of obesity in the Hunter Region and of poor food choices made through growing levels of affluence fuelled by the mining boom.
’’To counteract this, Slow Food Hunter Valley plans to create food communities all through the region that combine school and community gardens, taste education and work to protect biodiversity for the future.’’