Thursday, November 24, 2011

Milk, Music, Nature, Art, Inspiration

Last summer I had the good fortune to see Le otto stagioni at the Sony Centre. Otto stagioni (eight seasons) was made by adding Piazzolla's Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) to Vivaldi's Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons). So, four seasons plus four seasons equals eight seasons. The seasons were sort of... mixed up, and the Italian Baroque met the tango deliciously well, and - as much as I'm not a fan of mixing up pieces like this in a sort of wackily melodious salad - I enjoyed it, as performed by the La Scala Chamber Orchestra.

Now, as it happened, a few weeks before that I also saw a wonderful documentary called Milk War, which has won the James Beard Foundation Award (sort of food Oscars!).
It tells the latest instalment in Michael Schmidt's story, as his organic dairy farm is raided and he is charged with criminal offences, namely the distribution of unpasteurized milk.

It's a chilling viewing. The arguments against Schmidt are uninformed and backwards in thinking. Schmidt argues for choice in the matter of milk, and standards, which - currently - are not in place, opening up the possiblity of something going very wrong, sooner than later.

Narrated by Colm Feore and made for not very much money, it's a must-see for anyone out there worried about the food they consume and the big agri-business behind so much of it.

Coincidentally - and I love links like this! - Michael Schmidt is not only a bold and determined and somewhat eccentric farmer, he's also an impresario, hosting music performances in his farm's magnificent barn. Symphony in the Barn is a Durharm county highlight. I only attended once (I'd love to go again), and the performance I attended?... Le otto stagioni! It was magical. Sitting there in the barn, the music began, played by black-clad, barefoot young musicians in the rafters, accompanied by the songs of the birds that congregate up there. The musicians slowly descended from the huge beams, and the performance began, with the participation of two very striking tango dancers. Nature and art together. Perfection. And what Schmidt does with his milk, with his compassionately raised and slaughtered meat is another sort of art, and one I hope he can continue expressing for a long time. The man has a battle on his hands and I hope you will read up on the links in this blog post for more information! By the way, unpasteurized milk is legal in the U.K. The Royal Family supports it.

Another fine food documentary I saw this year was Kings of Pastry (2009) or, as I like to call it, The Anti-Food Network Show. Every four years (like the Olympics), competitors vie to win the celebrated red, white and blue collar, indicating that they are MOFs (Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or Best Craftsman in France). As you can imagine, great pastry chefs from all over come to compete, but not against each other, as there is no limit to how many MOFs can be created each four years. They are battling againt themselves, time, humidity, and just plain luck. The support they give each other, as stressful as the three-day competition is, was a relief to witness after the depths to which so many TV cooking shows have descended... food as specatator sport, accompanied by bleeped bad language. (Bad language should just be left in; who hasn't heard it all by now?) No evidence of that in Kings of Pastry. When one contestant sees his breathtaking sugar scultpure go crashing to the ground, the judges themselves (all MOFs) tear up. I teared up when one contestant, during his practice months back home, tossed a multi-layered cake of exquisite proportions... into the trash. Noooooooooo!


R.A.D. Stainforth said...

The thought of any cake going to waste brings tears to my eyes too ...

Blog Princess G said...

Mr. S: Oh, indeed, and it was a beauty.