Slow Food and Wine
The Slow Food Movement wants to change the way we think about food
The Slow Food Movement was born in the town of Bra, in Northern Italy, over three decades ago with the objective of promoting a way of eating that stands in stark contrast with the fast-food culture that was beginning to emerge in the country at the time. Slow food is first and foremost a philosophy, a different way of enjoying food and thinking about what we put on our table.
It was 1986 when journalist and activist Carlo Petrini decided to oppose the opening of a new McDonald’s in the heart of Rome. The American restaurant would sit right next to the famous Spanish Steps, marking a shift in Italian gastronomy that many like Petrini saw as a negative turn. Mass produced dishes, quick consumption, and low quality ingredients were disrupting a century old tradition, instilling poor eating habits in the younger generations.
Petrini decided to oppose this cultural shift by opening a non-profit organization called Arci Gola, to valorize local produce, high-quality cooking, and eating as a social activity to strengthen communities. Three years later, in 1989, Arci Gola became the International Slow Food Movement – an association that would grow to influence people’s relationship with food for the following decades.
The Slow Food Movement promotes a gastronomic culture that is built on a fair and sustainable food system. Petrini had already contributed extensively to the success of Gambero Rosso, a publishing house focused on highlighting the best of the Italian culinary world and his commitment to good eating naturally translated into the organization of events meant to protect and enhance the hundreds of small, traditional productions that were risking extinction due to the competition with industrial brands.
In 2008, Petrini became the only Italian to be included in the Guardian’s list of the “50 people who could save the planet.” Over the years, he met with many world leaders – including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Charles, and US President Barack Obama – to share his vision. The Slow Food Movement is now active in over 100 countries, promoting its philosophy through books, events, and international conferences that discuss innovative solutions to preserve old traditions and biodiversity.
The Ark of Taste
Which are the products that the Slow Food Movement values? Giving an univocal answer to this question is almost impossible. In 1996, the association launched the “Ark of Taste” initiative, a long-term operation that aims to catalog the extraordinary heritage of local products that is at risk of disappearing. The Ark of Taste collects fruits, vegetables, dairy products, animal breeds, breads and sweets in the hope of safeguarding them from extinction.
Through this initiative, the Slow Food association signals the existence of these products, denounces the risk that they may disappear, and invites everyone to do something to safeguard them – sometimes it means buying them and eating them, other times it involves supporting producers. In some cases – when the products are wild species at serious risk of extinction – it is better to eat less of them or not eat them at all, in order to protect them and favor their reproduction. Consumers become activists by considering the implications behind their food choices from a broad perspective.
Since the foundation of the Ark of Taste, nearly 5,475 products from 149 countries have been added to a list that continues to grow. They range from the Bay of Fundy Dulse algae found in Canada to the non-alcoholic fermented drink Hardiç, which has been produced in Albania for centuries. Rare and indigenous products make up a wonderful guide of the world’s lesser known flavors, and each entity is accompanied by a list of resources that explain how to grow, preserve and cook the products.
Following the success of the Ark of Taste, the Slow Food association began its involvement in the production process of many of the foods it aims to protect. The organization introduced the “Slow Food Presidium” label – a registered brand that ensures that all Slow Food standards are met. Producers can apply to become a presidium, but strict guidelines have to be followed to earn the label. Today, approximately 250 producers have claimed the title, guaranteeing that the Slow Food philosophy is applied to all stages of production.
Additionally, Slow Food has set up a network of markets that reflect the association’s ideals. There are now 75 “Earth Markets” spread across 28 countries that sell local, fresh, seasonal produce, offering a sustainable space to strengthen communities and provide free education on the topics of biodiversity.
From Slow Food to Slow Wine
Enjoying a good meal isn’t just about eating. In recent years the Slow Food Movement has expanded to include and reward wineries that are dedicated to the production of wine that doesn’t only taste great, but also abides to the ideas of fairness and respect for the environment.
What does this mean? The Slow Wine project rewards winemakers who avoid pesticides, herbicides and excessive water usage, but also those who safeguard traditional techniques and the diversity of grape varieties that exist around the world. Today, Slow Food publishes two Slow Wine guides – Slow Wine Italy, which explores nearly 2000 wineries in the country, and Slow Wine USA, where hundreds of wineries from Oregon to California are reviewed.
Located in the beautiful Momeliano Castle, in the Emilia Romagna region of Northern Italy, is Cantina Luretta, one of the wineries awarded with the coveted 2021 Top Wine prize. Luretta, which has been operating in the Piacenza Hills for over 30 years, cultivates the historical Malvasia Aromatica di Candia vines to produce three different wines with the grapes. Lucio Salamini, owner of the winery, explains that “for us here at Luretta, Slow Food was the first association that really spoke our language. They reward territorial typicality, family businesses, and the dissemination of all that is unique in the world of wine.”
This hasn’t always been the case in Italy, where small wineries often struggled to compete with bigger brands despite their offer of high-quality wines. Biodiversity and the particularity of specific grape varieties were being threatened by brands operating in the mass market that drove the demand toward a narrow selection of well-known wines. “Thanks to Slow Wine this trend changed,” continues Lucio, “they put the products at the center of everything. Being a small-scale winery with a unique vision became an asset. Their guide and events organized by Slow Food have helped us bring the philosophy we share all over the world.”
Osterias and trattorias: where to experience the Slow Food philosophy
After more than thirty years from its birth, the Slow Food movement has spread everywhere.
Today, the movement boasts a network operating in 160 countries around the world. Moreover, Slow Food has created, over the years, two important foundations, called Madre Terra and Per la Biodiversità, as well as the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo.
The best places to experience the slow food philosophy directly, however is in Italy’s many family-run restaurants. Known as “osterie,” “locande” or “trattorie,” the restaurants that best express the culinary experience Slow Food calls for are dedicated to local traditions, seasonal ingredients and sustainable products.
The Osterie d’Italia guide is published by the Slow Food association and includes the best of the country’s regional cuisine. In an interview for Vanity Fair, Petrini explained that “trattorias are the engine of a community. Because of the quality food and wine, but above all because people meet there. That’s why I always tell innkeepers that they have a social role, they manage a meeting place and not just a place where you eat and drink.”
Despite the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic this year, the 2021 guides includes 1697 osterias, with the highest concentration found in the Campania regione, the homeland of pizza, followed by Tuscany. Legendary pizza joints 50 Kalò, Da Concettina ai Tre Santi, and Gino Sorbillo, in Naples, are among the best Slow Food pizzerias in Italy.
Historical restaurant Il Cibreo, in Florence, is the go-to place to immerse oneself in the Tuscan tradition. For years, owner and chef Fabio Picchi has been the ambassador of a type of cuisine that revisits ancient recipes passed on through word of mouth, creating dishes that are always substantial and never betray their roots.
In northern Italy, Cremona’s Locanda degli Artisti welcomes guests in an atmosphere that reminds of an old mountain farmhouse. Chef Sergio Carboni, produces his own cured meats, part of an extensive menu that combines organic, raw ingredients to produce memorable dishes such as the goat ricotta cheesecake and the black truffle, fondue.
In Rome, the restaurant Da Armando al Pantheon represents the flavors of the Capital. The restaurant has been run for nearly 60 years by the Gargioli family, and besides all time classic dishes such as the Carciofo alla Romana, the Carbonara, and the Cacio e Pepe, the meatballs alla Armando have become icons of the city’s food scene.