One of the most characteristic food products of the Biella mountains, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, is Upper Elvo raw milk butter, made with the cream that rises to the top of raw milk before being cooled in fraidél – small stone structures fed with icy spring water.
This milk comes from the Pezzata Rossa di Oropa, a local cattle breed suited to grazing in steep mountain pastures, whose meat is also cured, or served in hearty stews alongside polenta made with stone ground cornmeal from the local mills. “Going there up on the mountain, visiting the producers and experiencing how they make this excellent traditional butter, is a unique experience, which also educates people on the value of preserving the ecosystem by the production of this particular dairy food,” says Francesco Sottile, Slow Food board member and professor at the University of Palermo.
If you’ve ever wanted to explore a food culture outside of your own, now is the time to try. Slow Food is a global movement of producers and people passionate about good food and preserving local traditions, with its sister network Slow Food Travel offering the chance to support this way of life as a unique holiday experience.
“It’s a different way of being a tourist than mass tourism, which often harms the environment,” explains Sottile. “The Slow Food Travel project represents an attempt to restore an environmental and ethical dimension to tourism, because the environmental and social implications of mass tourism are dramatic.”
Another food tradition in the Biella area is chestnuts dried on planks over wood fires. Until a century ago, these chestnuts were considered the ‘bread’ of the mountain people, but today only a few farms have chestnut groves and process the nuts. Food is deeply connected to the cultural history of this mountain region, with its white-capped peaks and green valleys, and can be experienced via friendly guided tours, self-organised visits to producers or vineyards, or just in the gastronomic traditions of the villages scattered throughout.
Born in Italy, Slow Food is now a global movement of millions across 160 countries, set up to counteract the disappearance of local food traditions and spread of fast food culture. The model is based on experience tourism, where travellers can meet producers, farmers, cheesemakers, winegrowers or chefs. As Sottile puts it: “Meeting people has always acted as a spur to travel. The excitement of travelling comes from experiences, hearing new stories and meeting new people. The result is a convivial community that interacts as a system, welcoming visitors who discover it through food.”
A million miles away from all-inclusive resorts cut off from local traditions and people who can really open your eyes to a place, Slow Food and its community-led ethos offer access to food, communities and place in a whole new way.
Travel to Biella
The Biella region is easy to travel around independently, or you can book via a travel guide or operator. Find more info and a map at fondazioneslowfood.com/biella-mountains or explore the different Slow Food itineraries or producers at slowfoodtravel.biellese.net.
Go to atl.biella.it for the well organised and welcoming tourism website.
By train, take the Eurostar from London to Paris, change in Paris for a 6hr train to Turin, Italy, and then change for the final leg to Biella San Paolo. From £155.
This piece was initially published in the spring-summer edition of Wicked Leeks magazine. You can read the full magazine online for free.