Ark of Taste

Teleme: California’s native cheese

By: Michael Salzman

Even the most knowledgeable cheese connoisseurs in California might not be aware of Teleme. Cheese snobs may find Teleme not refined enough. Still, chances are, if you were raised in the Bay Area or you’ve been lucky enough to have a good, open minded cheesemonger at your service, you’ve at least tried Teleme, and for those who’ve tried it, California cheese doesn’t get any better than Teleme! It’s the cheese of traditional Bay Area polenta. It’s the cheese that most local Italian families know as a breakfast option often served with fresh fruit. It has shown up in other Italian dishes and on burgers, adding rich, creamy texture and oh-so-cheesey flavor where cheddar and jack can’t do the job. It has won the praise of chefs, foodwriters, and cheese professionals.

To get better acquainted with Teleme, you should be aware that it comes in two varieties from two distinct producers, and this is where it gets tricky: one is Franklin’s Teleme made by Franklin Peluso at Mid Coast Cheese Company; the other is Tomales Bay Teleme Cheese made by Peluso Cheese. Franklin Peluso used to own Peluso Cheese before starting a second company and selling his family-namesake company — an element that confuses buyers and customers looking for the real deal. You see, Franklin’s Teleme is painstakingly made by an old-world recipe that has been handed down from generation to generation. It has rice flour stewn on its surface to control its moisture, it is never wrapped in plastic, and it is ripened in boxes that are not sealed. All of these elements create a superior, traditional product that shares qualities with cheeses made for millenia in Northern Italy—a family of cheeses known as stracchino cheeses. This is the Teleme that has been profiled in books on cheese and praised by food writers for decades.

In spite of its importance to California’s food culture and its popularity, Franklin’s Teleme is in serious danger of disappearing. You may have noticed that it’s been missing from its normal places for most of 2019. Franklin, the last maker of real Teleme, has been without a production facility lease since December 2018. With no new facility lined up, it’s all too easy to surmise that Franklin, in his mid 70s, may decide to retire without passing on the family recipe. Even more than my love of the cheese itself, it was the family element, the passing on of an old-world recipe from generation to generation, that attracted me to Teleme. A cheese with such a rich history is very rare in America. Once I learned that Franklin was the last man alive who knew how to make this cheese, I was compelled to nominate it for the Ark of Taste, a product designation and recognition project of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. The nomination process requires a full product history and biography to fulfill all of the eligibility requirements.

During the process of researching Teleme and Franklin’s family’s link to this cheese, I realized that more was at stake than the loss of a unique product. The story of Teleme is the story of an American immigrant family experience; it’s the story of the American dream; it’s the story of a traditional food community in San Francisco that expanded to the larger Bay Area and up and down California; it’s become the story of one man’s struggle with modernity and wanting not to compromise his identity, which is intricately tied to this cheese. Traditional Teleme cheese was accepted by the Slow Food Foundation and added to the Ark of Taste in September, 2019. It may be too late to save Teleme from extinction but at the very least I had the honor of chronicling its history for the Ark of Taste and brought its plight to the attention of many California cheese-lovers with a spring article in Culture Magazine. Many people are now watching closely to see if Teleme reappears in stores to be fallen in love with all over again. Hopefully, a new generation of cheese-discoverers will then appreciate a part of California’s food heritage that needs two things to survive and thrive: adorants who love it for what it is, and a brave, new cheesemaker to take it over and create the next chapter of its amazing story.

Ark of Taste

Slow Food Russian River’s Heritage Turkey Project

By Slow Food Russian River

The Heritage Turkey Project of Sonoma County, co-sponsored by Slow Food Russian River, just completed its 15th season of connecting youth to a future in agriculture. 

You might first ask ‘what is a heritage turkey’? Nearly all commercially sold turkeys in this country are the same Butterball breed – the Broad Breasted White. They have been selectively bred to mature quickly, for their white feathers (so they appear cleaner when you cook them), and for their huge breasts. These poor birds can’t fly, walk, or even breed naturally. Raised in confinement with no exercise, industrial turkeys have weak immune systems and often require antibiotics.  When they are harvested, their meat is so bland that they are often injected with saline solution and vegetable oil to improve their taste. The global Slow Food movement remains committed to preserving biodiversity, especially through the Ark of Taste project. Many of the varieties raised by youth in the project are boarded on the Ark, including the American BronzeBourbon RedNarragansett, and Royal Palm varieties.

Narragansett Tom “Bubba” from Thode Family Farm
The Narragansett Turkey will be featured in a series of USPS stamps next year of Heritage Breeds.

The project averages between 12 to 16 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) youth each year, growing a total of approximately 200 turkeys. The youth raise our heritage turkeys from 6-7 months from poult to maturity, which is twice the duration for commercial Broad Breasted Whites. Our project leaders, Catherine and Chuck Thode, are themselves active breeders of heritage turkeys. Some of the young farmers are now raising breeding pairs and hatching their own birds. Each project member raises their small flock of birds on their own property and shoulders the responsibility of providing their care and all-organic feed.

During the week and weekend before Thanksgiving, the birds are carefully collected from the youth’s farms and brought to their harvest and transformation. The nearest CDFA-approved facility which can support our unique youth-to-table operation is a six hour round trip. This enables us through the entirety of the project to know which youth raised a particular bird and its variety.

Given uncertainties from the COVID-19 pandemic on how people would be able to gather and with more birds raised this year than ever, we reached out through Slow Food California to Slow Food East Bay, Slow Food South Bay, and Slow Food Santa Cruz. East Bay leader Willow Blish organized and brought 22 turkeys from Sebastopol to Bay Area eaters, whom raved about their flavor. MB from Berkeley said, “It was by far our best turkey we’ve ever had, and it was perfectly sized for our family. We had roast turkey with persimmons and red onions, pasta with a garlic turkey sauce, turkey sandwiches, turkey salad sandwiches and then finally turkey stew! Thanks again for putting this together!  Please let the 4H kids know how much we appreciated it!” South Bay Vice Chair Jessica Campbell and her family enjoyed one of our heritage turkeys for the first time, noting, “The turkey was beautiful, and we ate every part. The liver was the healthiest organ I’ve ever seen in poultry, and the neck made an amazing broth for our leftover turkey soup. We felt so grateful to the family that raised such a fine specimen.

This project continues to bring awareness to Sonoma County and beyond to Northern California communities, our farmers, and our future farmers about the preservation of heritage breeds, sustainable farming, and responsible animal husbandry. The Heritage Turkey Project offers our young growers valuable, hands-on involvement in a viable, real-world market setting, with the proceeds from each sale at $9.50/lb going directly to the youth that raised it. It is truly a labor of love for all involved.

You can read more about the Heritage Turkey Project on Slow Food Russian River’s website at http://www.slowfoodrr.org/projects/heritage-turkeys/ and contact Project Coordinator Catherine Thode at heritageturkeyproject@gmail.com.

Ark of Taste, Regional Leaders Meeting, Slow Fish

Event: Slow Fish 2020

By Kelly Collins Geiser, Slow Food San Francisco Chair

GOOD, CLEAN AND FAIR SEAFOOD More than 80% of the seafood we eat in the U.S. is imported, yet we catch and harvest enough nationally to feed ourselves. The average boat-to-plate journey is over 5,000 miles. We can do better than this, anchored to the Slow Food vision of food that is good, clean, and fair for all:

Slow Fish 2020

Slow Fish 2020 is a collaborative gathering of fish harvesters, fishmongers, chefs, educators, researchers and advocates from across North America and beyond
working to create more direct supply chains based on Slow Fish Values of providing
Good, Clean and Fair seafood for all. The conference’s chief goal is to grow the Slow
Fish North America network and create an open table for all races, cultures, ages,
sexes and everyone who wants to embrace the Slow Fish values supporting
community-based fisheries. 

I’ve been to the last two Slow Fish North America gatherings, The 1st in New Orleans in 2016, and the 2nd in San Francisco in 2018 (A lot of you were there!)  These gatherings are where I’ve met the most vibrant and full-of-life folks.  From region to region one can find the connections we all share with the earth, rivers, oceans, and deep-love for the work we do.  Slow Fish has been a highlight in my work with Slow Food, and if you get the chance, come to any Slow Fish gathering and see for yourself.  This is truly where life-long friendships are made, and a wave of climate action participation and truly regenerative solutions are growing.  

-Slow Food San Francisco Organizer

 For tickets and more info

Ark of Taste

Traditional Teleme Cheese, a Slow Food Ark of Taste and Unique American Cheese

By Guest Writer, Michael Salzman

Even the most knowledgeable cheese connoisseurs in California might not be aware of Teleme. Cheese snobs may find Teleme not refined enough. Still, chances are, if you were raised in the Bay Area or you’ve been lucky enough to have a good, open minded cheesemonger at your service, you’ve at least tried Teleme, and for those who’ve tried it, California cheese doesn’t get any better than Teleme! It’s the cheese of traditional Bay Area polenta. It’s the cheese that most local Italian families know as a breakfast option often served with fresh fruit. It has shown up in other Italian dishes and on burgers, adding rich, creamy texture and oh-so-cheesey flavor where cheddar and jack can’t do the job. It has won the praise of chefs, foodwriters, and cheese professionals.

To get better acquainted with Teleme, you should be aware that it comes in two varieties from two distinct producers, and this is where it gets tricky: one is Franklin’s Teleme [https://franklinscheesedotcom.wordpress.com/our-cheese/] made by Franklin Peluso at Mid Coast Cheese Company; the other is Tomales Bay Teleme Cheese made by Peluso Cheese. Franklin Peluso used to own Peluso Cheese before starting a second company and selling his family-namesake company—an element that confuses buyers and customers looking for the real deal. You see, Franklin’s Teleme is painstakingly made by an old-world recipe that has been handed down from generation to generation. It has rice flour strewn on its surface to control its moisture, it is never wrapped in plastic, and it is ripened in boxes that are not sealed. All of these elements create a superior, traditional product that shares qualities with cheeses made for millenia in Northern Italy—a family of cheeses known as stracchino cheeses. This is the Teleme that has been profiled in books on cheese and praised by food writers for decades.  

In spite of its importance to California’s food culture and its popularity, Franklin’s Teleme is in serious danger of disappearing. You may have noticed that it’s been missing from its normal places for most of 2019. Franklin, the last maker of real Teleme, has been without a production facility lease since December 2018. With no new facility lined up, it’s all too easy to surmise that Franklin, in his mid 70s, may decide to retire without passing on the family recipe.

Even more than my love of the cheese itself, it was the family element, the passing on of an old-world recipe from generation to generation, that attracted me to Teleme. A cheese with such a rich history is very rare in America. Once I learned that Franklin was the last man alive who knew how to make this cheese, I was compelled to nominate it for the Ark of Taste [https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/what-we-do/the-ark-of-taste/], a product designation and recognition project of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity [https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/]. The nomination process requires a full product history and biography to fulfill all of the eligibility requirements. During the process of researching Teleme and Franklin’s family’s link to this cheese, I realized that more was at stake than the loss of a unique product. The story of Teleme is the story of an American immigrant family experience; it’s the story of the American dream; it’s the story of a traditional food community in San Francisco that expanded to the larger Bay Area and up and down California; it’s become the story of one man’s struggle with modernity and wanting not to compromise his identity, which is intricately tied to this cheese.

Traditional Teleme cheese [https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/ark-of-taste-slow-food/traditional-teleme-cheese/] was accepted by the Slow Food Foundation and added to the Ark of Taste in September 2019. It may be too late to save Teleme from extinction but at the very least I had the honor of chronicling its history for the Ark of Taste and brought its plight to the attention of many California cheese-lovers with a spring article in Culture Magazine [https://culturecheesemag.com/article/teleme-franklins-edition]. Many people are now watching closely to see if Teleme reappears in stores to be fallen in love with all over again. Hopefully, a new generation of cheese-discoverers will then appreciate a part of California’s food heritage that needs two things to survive and thrive: adorants who love it for what it is, and a brave, new cheesemaker to take it over and create the next chapter of its amazing story.