Los Angeles

Guest Post: Terra Madre Delegate Ernest Miller

04 lowrez

Slow Food Los Angeles will be highlighting the Terra Madre experiences, ideas and perspectives from our L.A.-based delegates in the coming weeks. First up, Farmer’s Kitchen Executive Chef and Master Food Preserver Ernest Miller. Anyone who has met Ernest will not fail to notice his energetic advocacy and passion for local food, farmers market produce and, of course, safe home food preservation. He is the lead instructor of the Master Food Preserver program for the University of California Cooperative Extension in L.A. County and speaks regularly both here and across the country on food access and safety issues.

I’ve been back nearly a week from Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto and I’m still digesting, figuratively, everything I saw, heard and, of course, tasted.

This was the first year that Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto were held simultaneously; it was all but overwhelming. From workshop and lecture to food fair and back again, it was a dizzying combination of intellectual
stimulation and gustatory exaltation.

There is so much to report, but I first want to talk about the Salone del Gusto – the world’s largest food and wine fair. Initially, it might appear that the Salone is not much more than another fancy food and wine show, such as those held in New York or San Francisco. Upon closer inspection, however, there are tremendous and significant distinctions.

The most important of these is that practically every booth is dedicated to a very specific region in Italy or the world; sometimes a single village or valley. Consequently, the food displayed and available for tasting is from that region. But it goes beyond that. Not only is the food regional, but it is part of that region’s history and culture. The vast majority of booths featured “Presidia” foods, that is, the foods were unique, traditional and endangered:

The Presidia program is coordinated by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, which organizes and funds projects that defend our world’s heritage of agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions.

Loosely translated into “garrison,” Slow Food Presidia (Presidium, singular) are local projects that work to improve the infrastructure of artisan food production. The goals of the Presidia are to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods by stabilizing production techniques, establishing stringent production standards, and promoting local consumption.

The varieties of cheeses and sausages were unbelievable. I tasted some of the finest in the world. But what really impressed me were the legumes. Seriously. I never tasted so many varieties of beans.

Black ChickpeaThat may not sound very exciting but, for me, it was. Beans have been the staple food for many human communities. They are rich in protein, minerals and frequently improve the fertility of the soil in which their grown.

In the Salone, each Presidia bean was unique in color, shape, taste. Each bean had a story to tell about its history, its environment, its people and even how it was cooked.

For example, the Sorana bean from Tuscany is traditionally cooked in a wine bottle. Hunters would take flask-shaped bottles of Chianti with them when hunting. After drinking the wine, the hunters would then fill the bottles with water, Sorana beans, garlic, salt and sage. The bottles would be placed in the ashes of a dying fire and in the morning, the beans would have been slow cooked to perfection: “Fagioli al Fiasco”.

Today, they actually sell glass flasks specifically for cooking the beans. But, they are still cooked slow with garlic and sage. And, through the Presidio, a unique, heirloom legume is preserved.

Take that fancy food show!