Meat from Sergio Falaschi butcher shop, San Miniato, Italy at Vienna Slow Food Terra Madre 2009.

Last week I helped Slow Food Vienna (German) with the Terra Madre Austria conference in Vienna. Terra Madre is a program sponsored by Slow Food to highlight local foods and local growers/producers. There is an International Terra Madre every two years in Turin Italy, and local Slow Food chapters organise their own versions regularly.

Enrico Gaggini with his Sorana Beans from Pescia, Italy.

Enrico Gaggini with his Sorana Beans from Pescia, Italy.

The main idea is to highlight traditional local foods that are in danger of being lost due to the homogenisation of the food industry. Heirloom tomatoes are a good example. The big food companies want consistent, easy to pick, easy to ship long distances and ‘durable’ tomatoes, we want taste and diversity.

Terra Madre consisted of three parts: a market of variety, a series of classes on specific local foods and an international congress.

Giuseppe Bartolomei with his Podere del Tordo wine, Pistoia Tuscany, Italy.

This was the first Terra Madre in Austria and several local foods were highlighted in the market of variety including: Wiener Gemischter Satz wine, Wachauer Safran (safran grown in the Wachau area of Austria), Grubenkraut (a very old method for conserving cabbage – you bury it four meters deep in the ground for up to three years), several old varieties of pork, traditional mountain cheeses, a unique version of corn that you grind, cook into small cakes and then serve with apple sauce and several other tasty treats. The idea is that a food is designated as a ‘Presidio’ and then a group is formed to support its preservation and encourage others to adopt it.

I volunteered to help a group of Italian producers who participated in the Terra Madre as guests. (I know a little Italian, but my wife and niece are quite good, so actually I volunteered them … although they were only there a little while, but I spent the whole two days at the show.) We helped Alberto Bellesi, from Poggione, an olive oil producer (the green oil in this photo is only five days old), Enrico Gaggini, a producer of Sorana Beans, Giuseppe Bartolomei, from the winery Podera del Tordo in Pistoia (Tuscany), Andrea Falaschi from the butcher shop Sergio Falaschi in San Miniato, and Gulio Malvezzi who makes olive oil in Tuscany, but was showing traditional Pistola Mountain Pecorino cheese.

As a volunteer I found myself being pressed into action when the Rathaus Keller kitchen staff realised that they did not have enough people to peel all the “ox heart carrots” (another traditional food) needed for all the delicious carrot soup. So, I helped with several other volunteers for a couple hours peeling carrots in one of Vienna’s finest restaurants. A good story….

The conference was also very good. The Slow Foods International founder Carlo Petrini gave a great call to arms explaining why food diversity is good for the planet, society and the economy. I loved the point he made that ‘politicians always arrive too late to solve problems, so the people need to take the initiative for improving the world” amen to that!

One final thought, the Terra Madre was partly sponsored by the city of Vienna. The conference was held at city hall, the market was held in the city hall hof, the school for taste was held in the city hall. The city provided financial and logistic support. This is really a great thing about Vienna, the city supports lots of these types of conferences and seminars. The photo in the left is Andrea Falaschi carving the last pieces of the wild boar prosciutto from the bone, leaving a wonderful taste in our mouths as Terra Madre Austria 2009 ends.

More photos of Terra Madre Austria on my Flickr site.