The Ark of Taste is an international, Slow Food program that identifies small-scale, quality food items associated with the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet; it is an extraordinary heritage of fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, cheeses, breads, sweets and cured meats. The Ark was created to point out the existence of these products, draw attention to the risk of their extinction within a few generations, and invite actions to help protect them. In some cases this might be by buying and consuming them, in some cases by telling their story and supporting their producers, and in others, such as the case of endangered wild species, this might mean eating less or none of them in order to preserve them and favor their reproduction.
To help gather items for boarding onto the Ark, Slow Food USA has organized the country into regions and created regional Ark of Taste committees. One of these regions is in California and two of the members of the California regional committee are Orange County chapter members Linda Elbert and Ted Wright. As committee members, we take part in evaluations of items nominated for boarding on the Ark that are associated with California foodways. Another of our roles is to help identify and nominate new food items for possible boarding on the Ark and it is in this effort that we could use your help. (Of course, should you wish to become more involved, talk to us about joining the CA Ark of Taste committee.)
What you can do to help us is to identify wonderful food items, associated with California, that are not widely available commercially. Here are some examples of items that have recently been recommended.
Abada Date Palm This date resembles the Deglet Noor Date but has shorter fruit stalks. The flesh is soft and melting with a very sweet flavor and has been generally well received by those who have tasted it. The fruit color goes from deep red to black with moderate to heavy bloom lending a purplish cast as fruit matures. The Abada date was discovered by D.G. Sniff growing wild in a riverbed in Brawley, California in 1936. After observing its strong qualities, the varietal name was created out of the first names of Sniff and his wife, Abby and Dana. Most of the offshoots were sold to Sunnipalms, a date garden near Indio, California, where there were 18 palms of Abada in production in 1955.
Emmett’s Cherry This cherry is a 130 year+ old heirloom with fantastic unusual, very dark purple, almost black, sweet cherries with an amazing, complex flavor! Unlike most sweet cherries, this one is not too sweet, with a mature Brix of 24°; however, it fills the mouth and touches the senses with a complex, unique taste. The Felix Gillet Institute found the only known tree of this variety on an old homestead near the Camptonville stage stop, where it has survived for many years. It receives no pruning, spraying, fertilization or irrigation. In 2013 we estimate it had 300-400 pounds of excellent cherries. In the winter of 2014/15, Emmett’s Cherry will be available as a grafted, dormant bare-root from the Felix Gillet Institute.
Creole Cream Cheese An example from outside of California is Creole Cream Cheese. Whether eaten as a savory or sweet part of a meal, Creole Cream Cheese is a celebrated part of the New Orleans culinary tradition that dates back 150 years to the region’s first French settlers. This cheese is similar to Neufchatel and other fresh farmhouse style cheeses with a taste somewhere between ricotta and crème fraiche, and with an underlying hint of buttermilk. Creole Cream Cheese is customarily served with a sprinkle of sugar, drizzle of syrup, or mixed with fresh fruit, as well as eaten spread on bread or crackers. With the establishment of state dairy regulations, Creole Cream Cheese began to disappear along with its small dairy producers, as they could not afford the investment required to meet the new regulations. Traditionally-made Creole Cream Cheese was relegated to the collective food memory past of New Orleans, until John Folse of Gonzales, Louisiana and Kenny Mauthe of Mauthe’s Dairy began producing and marketing this local favorite.
What we are hoping is that one of these examples has gotten you thinking about some cherished, local food item that you would hate to see disappear. If so, please let Linda or me know. You can email me at
I was lucky enough to be one of the hundred delegates selected to participate in Slow Food USA inaugural Slow Meat Symposium from June 20-22 in Denver, Colorado. The delegates ranged from ranchers and other producers, food policy experts and advocates, to others involved in our food system related to meat. Representatives from Slow Food International were also in attendance. Delegates spent the better part of two days in facilitated discussions aimed at producing actionable items that Slow Food chapters across the country can implement to help create a more humane and sustainable meat industry with reduced consumption as well. These items are being cataloged by Slow Food and should be available in late August.
These informative and lively discussions among delegates demonstrated the range of issues that encapsulate meat production in our country. Some delegates focused on the importance of educating consumers while other stressed the need for policy action. The negative impact to rural economies of industrialized meat production as well as its environmental degradation was a frequent theme. The Michael Pollan line “nobody knows a farmer anymore” was often repeated as we lamented the disconnect between rural and urban Americans as well as the general lack of food knowledge in our country.
Interspersed between the discussions were several plenary sessions. Speakers included Allan Savory from the Savory Institute, who provided a fascinating international viewpoint on holistic ranch management; and Mary Dee Berry of the Berry Center (and daughter of author and farmer Wendell Berry) who spoke passionately about the need to revitalize rural communities through family farming.
My overall impression was that this was a wonderful initial start to correcting the problems and injustices in our country’s meat production and consumption. Importantly, there are plans underway for a larger, more inclusive Slow Meat Symposium in 2015 to continue and expand these efforts. Specifically, it was clear to me that California (as well as New York City) Slow Food is way ahead of the curve on policy advocacy, and other chapters are looking to us to model their legislative advocacy activities. Also, state and localized efforts are likely to be our best means to achieve success – there was a “Washington DC is broken” and “captured by big ag interests” consensus that will make federal opportunities unlikely. Lastly, the overarching theme that we must consume less but better meat will need widespread localized educational efforts in order to make an impact on our restaurant menus and home meals. Towards this end, the Slow Food California Policy Committee is thinking about teaming up with Friends of the Earth to do a marketing campaign aimed at fast food restaurants. The campaign will focus on two goals: to eliminate the use of meat containing antibiotics and to develop a consumer education program.
Over the last few months we have been implementing our Snail of Appreciation award program. This program is a means for Slow Food OC to acknowledge restaurateurs, culinary artisans and CSA producers (community supported agriculture) who exemplify the principles of Slow Food and contribute to the quality, authenticity, and sustainability of food in our community. The three businesses that have received/will receive this award to date are Vitaly, Wheat and Sons Butcher/Rotisserie and Boldo Bol. On the website under the Program tab is a detailed description of the Snail of Appreciation program, information about these businesses, and the forms to use in nomination.
One of the side benefits of implementing this program has been the opportunity to spend time with other Slow Food members at a more personal level. Each time we presented an award we gathered together a few members to share a meal at the restaurant when presenting the award. This created the classic Slow Food conviviality around the table breaking bread! With no structured program, members had time to talk and get to know each other. Given that our chapter encompasses all of Orange County getting to know one another is not always easy. This was such a great opportunity we decided we should open it up to more people when presenting the third award to Boldo.
As you will see in this newsletter, we have organized a mixer at Boldo for the evening when we present our Snail of Appreciation award. Joining us in this mixer is Slow Money Southern California. Slow Money is a non-profit network that connects farmers, entrepreneurs, investors, thought-leaders and everyday folks interested in developing alternative resources that help strengthen and diversify our local food system. Slow Money was founded by Woody Tasch, former chairman of Investors’ Circle — a nonprofit network of over 200 angel investors, professional venture capitalists, foundations, family offices and others. The idea to initiate the Slow Money movement came to Woody Tasch while he was writing his book Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money– Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered. Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini wrote the forward to Tasch’s book and was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Slow Money national convention. The Slow Food philosophy is that everyone has a fundamental right to the pleasure of good food and consequently, the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, and the tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible. The Slow Money movement seeks to create capital flows to support “slow food” enterprises. Slow Money’s mission is to find ways to raise and allocate capital to support diverse, small scale agriculture and small food enterprises that are dedicated to using sustainable agricultural practices. Slow Food is a network of people who support good, clean and fair food and Slow Money can offer financial resources to build and support this network. We look forward to working in partnership.