Slow Food Market, Hurry Back to Zürich !
Recognizable by its signature snail logo, the Slow Food organization is all about understanding more about the food we eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices impact the rest of the world. Pretty much, everything that is lost with fast food ! While Slow Food Switzerland has been around since 1993, we just had our first ever Slow Food Market (Il Salone del Buon Gusto / Le Salon du Bon Goût) in Zürich, where local and regional producers connected directly with the public. Taste, discover, discuss and buy. I had the pleasure of listening to Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini speak (in German, Italian and French !) about the concept of “Retour à la Nature“; the Terra Madre network of food communities, defined by place of origin; as well as how that all meshes with the values of Swiss artisans and consumers. “Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability and harmony with nature.”
During three days in early November, over 150 small producers set up stands to share their passions for their products, educating us on family traditions, regional specialties, artisanal methods or the use of organic, fairtrade ingredients. Of course there was cheese, plenty of it, as well as wine, assorted dried meats, oils and vinegars, spices and herbs, nuts and dried fruit…
But you all know where I was spending most of my time – with the sweet producers, but of course. So while you may think that Andrea Paternoster below is swirling and sniffing wine, that’s actually honey. It was absolutely fascinating to smell and taste several of his varieties of Mieli Thun honey, comparing spicy notes with floral ones, contrasts between sweetness and bitterness, flavors and aromas that develop and change, just like when tasting wine – or chocolate. Pasternoster calls himself not just a beekeeper, but a “color producer”; and each of his 24 honeys (acacia, dandelion, rhododendron, sunflower, heather, etc.) showed that, with its own distinctive color swatch, as well as origin and tasting notes.
When asked for his advice on the best way to experience honey, master beekeeper Pasternoster smiled and answered with a soft voice: “in the evening, in front of the fireplace, in a glass, with a spoon, your eyes closed… think about the most beautiful thing in your life, so rare and precious.” To him, his honey. (New Yorkers, you can get his honey at Eataly in Manhattan)
Béatrice Pittet and her husband Jean-Marc, of Gourmandises de Fribourg, had me equally captivated, as they made traditional Swiss bricelets fresh at the market, the smell drawing you to them (here’s a recipe). A thick off-white batter, made with double cream, white wine, kirsch, white sugar and flour, is poured into a bricelet iron (looks like a flattened waffle iron) and baked for just a minute or two until dark brown. Shaped by rolling them around a wooden cylinder while still warm, they have beautiful motifs from the iron itself and an amazingly light and crisp texture. While best eaten plain, a “grosse gourmandise” as Béatrice called it, would involve dipping them in yet more double cream or even adding a thin piece of chocolate in the middle.
Lesson learned: don’t call it double crème de Gruyère, as I was promptly corrected, seeing as the entire canton of Fribourg makes double cream, not just Gruyère, the area that is clearly the most famous for it. (Reminds me of Portuguese winemakers cringing when their wine from Douro is referred to as Porto.)
Another sweet stand that caught my eye turned out not to be 100% sweet after all. Meringues in an assortment of 20 flavors, including raspberry and passionfruit (the two most popular), seasonal lebkuchen, apricot or rhubarb… and onion/Pinot Noir ! Eaten like chips during an aperitif, they can also be added to a salad or soup; garlic meringues apparently go especially well with game dishes. Something to try at your next dinner party perhaps… And be sure to pronounce their name, Scrounchs, like the sound they make when you eat them !
When I first looked at the list of exhibitors at the show, there was one that jumped right out at me, and that I knew I simply could not miss: Nougalicious. Had my name all over it. You all know how much I love nougat (ah, Venice. Note to self: make more soon.) Andy Williamson (below) and Annabelle Kastens brought their nougat from the south of France, where all varieties are made using lavender honey (harvested during July and August), almonds and pistachios; and following in the spirit of Slow Food, certified organic and fairtrade raw cane sugar and free range egg whites. Depending on the flavor, the rest of the ingredients vary from apricots and rosemary to salted butter caramel and marzipan. So many people mistake their big 4 kilo rounds for cheese that they box pieces in small round cardboard boxes, traditionally made for Camembert. Very clever.
With my slice of dried fig and date nougat ready to go, I asked Andy to tell me more about the mint chocolate flavor that clearly caught my eye. Turns out, it’s not one of the most popular among the flavors, but happens to be his favorite. We have a lot in common. I simply fell in love with it. The fact that they use Valrhona 70% chocolate didn’t hurt. Furthermore, we agreed on the fact that nougat should be sliced thick so you can really appreciate the texture, that soft chew nougat is known for. And if you think the thicker the piece, the longer it lasts… think again.
Slow Food Market
November 11-13, 2011*
Messe Zürich, Halle 9.1 + 9.2
*The dates have been announced for next year’s Slow Food Market: November 9-11, 2012