There are high mountain honeys, liquorice liqueurs, salamis and Torino chocolates; there is ricotta wrapped in hay, cheeses in gourds, and grappa from a steam distillery in Piedmont. There is a glut more. Georgian wine, Scottish beer, Icelandic flaky salt. But at Salone del Gusto in Turin last year, the Slow Food organisation’s biennial, international showcase of such artisan food products, it was unclear how best to keep these rare foods thriving.
Paolo Ciapparelli, a producer of Bitto cheese from the Valli del Bitto in Lombardy, had found a “creative solution” by opening a banca di formaggio – a cheese “bank” in which customers’ purchases are aged in his huts (this is the only cheese in the world that can be aged for more than 10 years), supposedly gaining in value. “We have a very small production but it can also be profitable,” Ciapparelli said. Prices start at about €300-€400 with €10 per year for storage. Inscriptions can be “written” into the cheese using blackberries: “marketing from the heart” as Ciapparelli put it.
Serena Milano, of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, is evaluating the economic data on members of the Slow Food Presidia programme, in which producers are monitored and supported – and able, like Ciapparelli, to use the Presidia moniker as a marketing tool. “The problem is that the prices start too low. It’s important to valorise them. Increasing prices for us is a positive indicator,” she says.
Slow Food in the UK has also looked at ways in which its parallel Forgotten Foods programme can be used to spread the message – and the money – a bit further. Nominated by Slow Food UK as worthy of recognition, the “Forgotten” are vulnerable or extraordinary, often both: badger-faced Welsh mountain sheep, Cornish saffron cake and medlars are some new recruits.
In a deal initiated by corporate catering company Restaurant Associates, “Forgotten” foods are now on RA menus in City canteens and staff restaurants nationwide.
On a recent lunchtime at KPMG’s headquarters in Canada Square, London, this could be seen in action, as the accountants filed into the fifth-floor canteen. About 1,500 staff lunch in-house every day and, says Jeremy Ford, executive chef of RA, “We need to be competitive … on the Wharf that’s really fierce … You can buy anything you want within two minutes’ walk of this building.”
Among the canteen choices that Ford hopes will prevent people venturing outside are broccoli and Dorset Blue Vinny soup and a Grimsby smoked haddock fishcake. The Blue Vinny is an unpasteurised cheese made on Woodbridge Farm by a family business; the haddock is made to a 19th-century method and “smoked overnight so it doesn’t dry out so quickly”, says Katharina Augustin, the Forgotten Foods programme’s co-ordinator.
The partnership is an interesting – and for RA, a commercially astute – move in the ongoing struggle for good, responsibly sourced food. “If you rewind five years, [the idea of] provenance was in fine dining but now it’s in Harvester, it’s in all markets … There is a hard business case for it,” says Ford. He mentions a recent contract won with a large law firm that was clinched by RA’s reassurances on provenance – something for which the Forgotten Foods have impeccable credits.
Meanwhile, for Slow Food week in the UK, which begins this weekend, chefs such as Angela Hartnett who have long championed the cause will be putting the Forgotten on to the menu. Richard Corrigan, of Corrigan’s in Mayfair, says: “In 24 years of living in Britain you come across these beautiful little producers. This is not a chef endorsement scenario, it’s about raising awareness.” He will, like KPMG, be using Grimsby smoked haddock, served with Formby asparagus and pheasant’s egg; there will also be a salad of Pembrokeshire beetroot, ravioli of Cornish crab, fennel and coriander and English asparagus and lavender vinaigrette. Food to remember, in more ways than one.
For more information on Slow Food Week, go to www.slowfood.org.uk