Every second year, during the third weekend of September, the little medieval town of Bra in Piedmont, Italy is transformed into a place of hedonistic delight for cheese aficionados from all over the world. The Bra Cheese festival is organised by Slow Food, and is devoted to showcasing everything to do with cheese. The emphasis of the show is to draw attention to Slow Foods ideals of preserving biodiversity and returning to Artisanal food. In the case of cheese making, quality cheeses are lovingly hand-made, using age-old methods and raw milk.
The entire town of Bra participates in this weekend of gastronomy; the streets are lined with stalls and thronged with visitors who come to taste and buy some of the superb cheeses and other foods on sale. But it is not just about the tasting; you can get to meet some of the farmers and cheese makers, and there are many educational workshops running every day, including some specifically designed for children.
Although the emphasis is on local cheeses and cheese makers, there is also an opportunity to taste some artisan cheeses from other parts of the world. Gourmet offerings are not restricted to cheese, and visitors have the chance to visit stalls where other artisanal foods such as Prosciutto, (Dried, cured ham), wild Ethiopian coffee beans, pastas, pizzas and even beers are showcased and available to taste.
There is a lot to see and do! The list of daily events (which you can download from the Slow Food website) runs to 6 pages, just for the first day! If you are spending the weekend in or around Bra you need to do some carefully planning to attend all the workshops that interest you, and which range from ethical farming practices and animal welfare, to artisan breweries, to making jams and preserves. Most of the workshops and tastings are free, but in a few cases a small charge is levied which is donated to a special Slow Food cause, such as the Thousand Gardens in Africa project.
The festivities and eating carry on well into the night! From 8.30 pm you can join one of the Dinner Date venues for supper, if you still have space. The event closes at 11pm each night so that you can get some sleep before starting all over again the next day.
What you need to know:
“Cheese” is a very popular event and you need to book well in advance if you want to find accommodation near the town. During the event, the roads leading into Bra are closed and shuttles operate to take you from the car parks to the festival area. (Parking and shuttles are free!) In addition to all the foods and cheeses, there is a large beer and wine tasting section. Workshops and cookery courses should be booked well in advance.