Polizzi Badda Beans and Stichelton Hosted in Brussels

Wednesday June 29 was a special day for two producers of European Slow Food Presidia who were hosted in Brussels by the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General at a Lunchtime Conference. These lunch-hour events are opportunities for debates and exchanges of ideas with European officials.

This conference was dedicated to domesticated biodiversity, the importance of the work of producers who preserve the local varieties and traditional breeds best suited to protecting local areas and the environment, and to the role of political instruments in supporting them. It also showed how the Presidia projects take concrete action and how they can support producers who practice sustainable, quality agriculture.

Roberta Billitteri, a young grower of Polizzi Badda beans in Sicily, Italy, and Joe Schneider, who makes raw-milk Stichelton cheese in the United Kingdom, told their stories and presented their products, which were also offered to the participants for tasting.

The presentation was received with great interest by the European officials who attended the meeting—most of whom work in the EU environmental protection sector—and who were very open to the philosophy and message that lie behind these projects.

Roberta Billitteri described how a small group of inhabitants of Polizzi, in the province of Palermo, had been preserving a heritage bean out of passion. When they started an association, they made this biodiversity a resource and an employment opportunity for young people like her. “It is important to encourage collaborations between producers from the same area, for example buying machinery for shared use rather than one piece of equipment for each farm, or supporting producers by helping them acquire all the skills needed to develop a business,” explained Roberta, emphasizing the importance of doing everything within a participatory rather than a technocratic process.

For his part, Joe Schneider explained how his dairy pays three times more than market price for milk, a surprising fact in a Europe where the price of milk is at a historic low. “Working on the quality of the product means working on the quality of the whole chain. The cows of the farmer I work with are outdoors every day, munching grass, soaking up the sun, laying in the meadows, which is vital for the exchange of those good microbes that determine the quality of the raw milk and my cheese.” And people are willing to pay for all of this, without needing much convincing. “Years ago my partner sold our Stichelton at a stall close to a building site. The builders would come and buy cheese for lunch. Thinking that the builders would prefer to buy a less expensive cheese than ours, he started to offer a cheaper, conventional cheese alongside the Stichelton. The builders continued to spend their £5 for our Stichelton. They preferred to buy less cheese, but the one that they really liked.”

Many questions were asked, with a particular interest in trying to better understand the difficulties the producers face, the tools currently available to support them (like rural development programs) and tools that would be useful in the future to help farmers carry out their work.

This type of meeting offers an important encounter between the authorities and small-scale producers, and allows them to develop an essential dialog to ensure that policies are truly supportive of small-scale traditional food production. This type of production is being lost, threatened by a productivist economic and agricultural model that does not recognize it has an essential role to play in promoting local areas, safeguarding native breeds and fruit and vegetable varieties from extinction and protecting the environment and biodiversity.

During the day, the producers also met with other officials working in the agriculture sector, with whom they discussed specific issues linked to their work.

Joe Schneider, in particular, has been fighting for years to be able to call his cheese Stilton. The name is regulated by a Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO), whose rules state that milk must be pasteurized. Because Joe Schneider’s cheeses are made with raw milk, he cannot use the Stilton name, hence Stichelton. This exclusion from the PDO means he loses out on market access, and the raw-milk production is not recognized as a European heritage.

To support Joe and his artisanal cheesemaking, Slow Food has set up a Presidium and started an online petition to collect signatures from around the world.

Stand alongside Slow Food to support Joe Schneider’s battle to save Stilton! Click here to sign the request to change the regulations.

Click here to find out more about the Slow Food Presidia.

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