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On Your Mark, Get Set: Say Cheese!

2011 September 27

By Valeria Necchio

Purchasing-my-zucca-lunga-di-Napoli-squash-at-the-marketBra, Italy – As soon as I received Marc’s recipe outline for his beautiful butternut squash tart, I got nervous. Italy is an amazing foodie country, but we have far fewer varieties of squashes than in the United States. I once tried to make a pumpkin pie out of something different than a pumpkin – it really didn’t work so well. Still the idea of relaying  winter squash fascinated me. So I thought: “Can I find something similar to a butternut –like, from the same family? I think I can!”

Winter squash is now in season here and it is available at my favorite farmer’s market in town. Alas, I do not have a vegetable garden like Marc’s yet, but at least I know that I can go to the market twice a week and find almost the same produce I would find in my grandpa’s garden. My grandpa has squash right now, I swear! So, I bought a piece of zucca lunga di Napoli squash at the market and started to build my recipe from here.

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Bra is a lovely little town surrounded by the Langhe – a breathtakingly beautiful region blessed by amazing wine production; Langhe is, among other things, the land of the Nebbiolo grape, from which Barolo and Barbaresco are made. Bra is also the town where the Slow Food Movement was born 20 years ago – this says it all about the quality of food you can find here. The Slow Food philosophy about good, clean and fair food has been part of my life and food choices for a while.

The local market is the biggest source of inspiration for my daily cooking. I let it drive my senses and tempt me with colors and smells, or I simply listen to producers’ suggestions on what to buy or how to cook things. The fruits and vegetables are the best you could ask for: firm, fresh and flavorful (the three Fs of produce, ha!). Plus, prices are very inexpensive but fair for farmers, something that I like a lot.

Bra has another peculiarity for which it is renowned worldwide: it is the town of Cheese. Cheese is a biannual event organized by Slow Food where shepherds, cheese makers and affineurs from all over the world get together to showcase the best of their production. During the year, Braidesi normally shop for cheese at the superb local affineur Giolito, but during this huge event we can’t help stuffing our mouths and our fridges with heavenly cheeses from all over. Guess what: Cheese 2011 just happened!

Being especially involved in the Raw Milk Campaign for my job, I wanted to include in my recipe at least one great local raw milk cheese which was also a Slow Food Presidium.  As stated on the Slow Food Foundation website “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.” At Cheese there was a whole section dedicated to the Italian and International Presidia of cheese (from Castelmagno to Somerset Cheddar). All were amazing and delicious.

I was especially looking forward to buying some castelmagno d’alpeggio, a great alpine product from our region, Piedmont. It comes in different stages of aging, and the older ones have natural blue molds. For cooking, though, the producer suggested the youngest one. I bought a piece and immediately started to dream of the marriage between the squash and castelmagno.

Come back on Thursday to see if my dream comes true!

Valeria Necchio recently obtained the Masters in Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. She is currently working at Slow Food International for the Raw Milk Campaign. Her spare time is divided between food photography and blogging, and walking at the park.