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The opposite of fast food.  That’s the premise behind the organization Slow Food, which was started in 1989 in (of course!) Italy.

Every two years the organization sponsors a Salone Internazionale del Gusto in Torino which, for the first time, was joined this year by Terra Madre, an organization that promotes sustainable agriculture and food production, with a focus on the small producer and preserving taste and biodiversity.  The two groups have much in common in that they both have an interest in the responsible production of delicious food.  Terra Madre focuses more on the agricultural side of the equation, Slow Food on the side of finished food products.  Terra Madre had a much smaller group of exhibitors than did Slow Food, but they were much more interestingly attired (see web album). One theme of this year’s Salone was environmental protection.  Everything was recyclable or made from already recycled materials.

The Salone ran from Oct. 23-27 in the Lingotto Fiera, a HUGE group of pavilions which are a part of a former Fiat manufacturing site.  The whole Fiat plant there has been redesigned as a exhibition center, including the Fiere halls (70,000 square meters) and an auditorium, museum, and exhibit spaces.

Imagine two long aisles of nothing but cheese producers!  A beer hall with at least 10 different beers on tap.  Aisles and aisles of meat products.  Chocolate!  Pasta!  There’s not much that you can eat that wasn’t at the Salone del Gusto… except fast food. And there were not many fresh foods on view; some fruit, not many vegetables, and the meat was all cured in one way or another. One aspect of the Salone which we didn’t take advantage of (nor did many others I’m sure) is the great number of classes, conferences and so forth on various aspects of food, its growth, its preparation and presentation. Over 250 Presidi (chapters of Slow Food) from around the world had exhibits (or something?) – we never got to that pavilion.

Many of the exhibitors were from Italy, but there was a good representation also from Germany and Austria and even someone from Mexico.  And almost all of them gave little tid-bits of their food to taste (except for the caviar and chocolate people, darn it).  You can eat enough for a week on your E 20 admission ticket (and if you’re very lucky, as we were, friends will give you a brace of tickets).  Even the wine was available to taste in small amounts. (Mysteriously all the wine-tasting ground to a halt between 12:30 and 2:30, a great inconvenience to our friend Frank who had developed a powerful thirst.)  Beer of many types was on tap for E 3 for a generous glass.

I truly can’t single out what the very best thing we ate was, it was all fabulous.  We were very careful though, and came home with only one salami and one cheese.  It got easier to resist temptation as the day wore on and our stomachs filled with all our tasting.

Two years ago there were 160,000 visitors at the Salone.  It felt like they all came back on Friday when we were there – it was mobbed.  I can’t imagine what Saturday and Sunday must have been like.  The food people were all unfailingly friendly and pleasant – big smiles and no hard-sell.

It was a fabulous day, but a sensory overload.  There was entertainment in the background almost constantly, and the pavilions are not designed to cut down on sound bouncing around.  There was so much to look at, and to taste, that it was hard to take it all in at once (literally and figuratively).  Will I go back in two years?  If you’d asked me on Friday I’d have said Never!  Too exhausting.  Today?  Well I’d certainly be tempted.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life.

Here’s a photo album you can look at if you’re interested.  It only scratches the surface of what we saw, but it does give… the flavor.