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.

Annual Project, One Seed One Community

Defend the Future Save a Seed

By Guest Writer, Hillie Salo

Responsible Consumers: Seeds are the Starting Point, Think About It!

True awareness about what is on your plate begins with the first link in the food chain: the seed that creates the plant, flower and finally the fruit.

From Seeds According to Slow FOOD
https://www.slowfood.com/sloweurope/wp-content/uploads/ING-libretto-semi-b.pdf

USA Slow Food’s Plant a Seed is a wonderful program, introducing young people to the exciting world of growing your own food and peeking their curiosity with joyful new flavors. Next step is to give them tools to face the challenges of climate change. 

That is what One Seed One Community aims to do, by encouraging folks to save and share seeds. Each year, a Bean has been chosen from the Ark of Taste for the community to grow and complete life’s circle from seed to seed. 

Saving seeds over a period of time can lead to adaptation to the environment in which they were grown. Beans have been shown to present signs of adaptation over a period of just three growing seasons. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5372509/#!po=9.57447

This year OSOC has spread to various places in Northern and Southern California. Seed Libraries and many Slow Food members in 

Ukiah One Seed One Community 

San Diego 

Santa Monica

Santa Maria

San Louis Obispo 

Monterey

Silicon Valley

San Leandro 

East Bay

San Francisco

Sebastopol 

Mendocino

and others are leading the charge in saving the Cherokee Trail of Tears bean. https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/ark-of-taste-slow-food/cherokee-trail-of-tears-bean/

An individual gardener’s gene pool of a plant variety often is not more than what can be held in the palm of the hand. A very small gene pool indeed! Seed Libraries are a community project that gives the community access to a diverse gene pool. As well, they can give low income, first time and community gardeners the potential to bring fresh healthy food into their lives. 

In the circle, Seed Libraries make seeds available, and the community grows and returns seeds to have a fresh stock of seeds available every year. Seed Libraries need community support in returning seeds. More often than not more seeds are taken than returned. OSOC invites the community to Save a Row for Diversity! to replenish our Seed Libraries. This year we are saving the Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean.

Slow Food chapters across the state may consider reaching out to their local Seed Library to start a One Seed One Community project for next year. Each chapter could challenge their membership to commit to raising so many pounds, maybe 2 pounds, 5,10,15, 25 pounds to donate to their local Seed Library and other community groups. Perhaps a school garden…

If you send your beans out to the community, and they are returned and grown again, we are well on our way to building a local diverse seed stock and food security. Local food begins with local seed. Seed the local Revolution!

Do you have a suggestion for next year’s bean?

Slow Food’s Position Paper on Seeds

Manifesto on the Future of Seeds

Heirloom Seeds to Cultivate the Future

Slow Food Europe’s section on Seeds