Last weekend saw Germany’s annual Slow Food trade fair¹ take place in Stuttgart. Slow Food International is a organisation founded in 1986 in Italy by a chap called Carlo Petrini, who wanted to take action to preserve local food traditions and promote the pleasure of “slow” gastronomy (as opposed to “fast” food). Since then, Slow Food has expanded to become a global, grassroots movement involving millions of people from over 160 different countries around the world. It promotes the principles of eating good, clean, fairly produced food by supporting small-scale producers, defending local food traditions and trying to reignite public interest in the provenance and quality of what’s on our plates.
Here in Germany, the movement is thriving. Founded in 1992, Slow Food Deutschland¹ now has well over 13,000 members plus a very active Slow Food Youth Network¹. The annual trade fair in Stuttgart, the Markt des guten Geschmacks (“Good Taste Market”), is an opportunity for regional and international artisan producers to present their goods to the visiting public, and for visitors to learn more about them.
This year, running from 9-13 April 2015, the Slow Food fair was touted as being the biggest and best yet. And that’s just what it turned out to be, with a record number of visitors – 90,000 – having the opportunity to meet almost 500 exhibitors and attend countless workshops, lectures, demonstrations and tastings in two vast halls over the course of four days. I, happily, was one of them.
The Slow Food Blogger Meeting
A friend and I travelled 3.5 hours by train on Saturday to the Messe Stuttgart (Stuttgart Exhibition Centre) to embark on what was essentially a 5 hour, countless-course tasting menu. But before getting stuck in, we joined a room full of around 100 food lovers – bloggers and producers – for a meeting led by the Messe‘s Communications Manager, Andreas Wallbillich.
We were each given the opportunity to stand up and introduce ourselves and, though I was disappointed that there wasn’t a repeat of last year’s presentation from the President of Slow Food Deutschland, Ursula Hudson, there was a brief introduction from a handful of members of the Slow Food Chef Alliance, a global network of chefs dedicated to actively championing local producers and thus helping to preserve local traditions and food biodiversity.
Italian cheese, German whisky
The first hall was largely inhabited by the 139 international exhibitors, who mostly hailed from Italy and France but also represented producers from all over the world. We wove between stalls, eyeing up oils and honeys, paté, fresh pasta and spices whilst nibbling on Italian cheeses of all shapes and sizes (I was particularly taken by the huge cubes of cheese matured in olive leaves from Formaggio MDF, pictured above) as well as cured and smoked French meats, Italian ice cream, French preserves and sipping on a glass (or two) of very good Polish sparkling wine. The hall was incredibly busy – hardly surprising on a Saturday afternoon – and because the stands were crawling with visitors clamouring for samples, it was unfortunately very tricky to chat to the producers about their goods.
We finished up our exploration of the international stalls with a couple of excellent porchetta sandwiches and a quick tour of the three areas new to the trade fair this year. The first was an exhibition of tools and furniture for the kitchen, including some solid-looking iron pans and furniture made from used wine barrels. The second offered samples of beers from small-scale German breweries, where our free blogger beer vouchers came in handy for trying small glasses of the cold stuff. My companion tried both dark and light beers from Dachsenfranz and Schimpf but in terms of flavour, wasn’t wildly impressed with either. And then, in a huge and unforgivable oversight, we managed to wander directly through the third new area without properly investigating what was on show: Germany now apparently has more whisky producers than Scotland, and here there were 17 small regional distilleries showing off their wares.
Black Forest Miso
And so we moved on to the second hall, which mostly contained the regional German products I had really come to investigate. We inspected specialties from all over the country, from some very good preserves and mustards – thumbs up to Senfmühle Monschau from Nordrhein-Westfalen – and bread, cheese and meats to some rather more inventive Germanmade produce, including some very good miso and pocket-sized packages of beef jerky, both produced in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest).
Gin and oysters (not at the same time)
We stopped for generous glasses of very sweet sparkling quince and sparkling pear and apple wines from the wonderfully enthusiastic Hans-Jörg Wilhelm from northern Baden-Würrtemberg, who tried to keep us going with a couple of quince liqueur chasers; and innocently browsed a selection of ferociously alcoholic, eye-wateringly expensive and very trendy Schwarzwald gins, including the nicely bottled Monkey 47, pictured below, which has a fascinating history, from renowned ginmeister Christopher Keller of Stählemühle in southern Baden-Würrtemberg.
A plethora of hot food stands offered traditional German meals including hearty game dishes, Käsespätzle (Spätzle with cheese), Flammkuchen (a sort of German pizza) and plenty of grilled sausage. Already rather full, I enjoyed a single cold, plump oyster caught and expertly prepped for me by Jan Geertsema, a lovely long-haired Dutchman with a weathered face who’s one of a band of 35 “Goede Vissers²” (Dutch for “Good Fishermen”) who fish using traditional methods in the Waddenzee, a complex ecosystem that runs along the coastlines of Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Crispy pork belly and freshly-baked brown bread
Regional meat highlights included smoked and air-dried Ahl Wurst (a regional hard pork sausage) from Feinkost Rohde of Hessen; and the sizzling hot strips of pan-fried Berkshire and Tamworth pork belly served by Hofgut Silva of Baden-Württemburg, without question the most flavourful I’ve ever tasted. We also tried their blood sausage and salami and I brought home a glass jar of their pork liver paté to go with a mini loaf of wholemeal bread from the Hofpfisterei in Munich, Bavaria, which my husband declared to be one of the best he’s ever eaten (and he’s German, so he’s eaten a lot).
Chewing the cud
There was so much to explore and taste at the exhibition stands alone that since it was our first visit, we were content not to attend any of the lectures and panel discussions or join any workshops or demonstrations. The wide-ranging agenda was packed full of fascinating-sounding items, however, from a nose-to-tail tasting experience and a discussion about the sustainability of fish farming to a whisky and chocolate tasting. If we’d had more time, I’d have loved to have joined in. Instead, after several hours of ambling around sampling foods and chatting to some of the Slow Food folk who produce them, we stopped briefly to admire the live animals happily muching on hay outside before embarking on our 3.5 hour journey back to Wiesbaden – a little rounder than we’d arrived.
The next food event at the Messe Stuttgart is the first ever “Veggie & Frei Von” (“Veggie and Free From”) fair, which takes place on 20-22 November 2015. To read more about Slow Food, including how to support the movement – wherever you are in the world – visit Slow Food International.
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¹ Links in German
² Link in Dutch