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Caseus Prize (Premio Caseus)

A Cheese Competition in Italy

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Premio Caseus winner - photo

ABOVE: Chef Giovanni Guarneri of the Don Camillo Restaurant in Siracusa, Sicily poses with his wife Cecilia and his winning cheese trolley at the second annual Caseus Prize competition.

In the United States, where I live, a cheese trolley is likely to be a streetcar that sold its naming rights to Kraft. The situation in Italy is quite different: Cheeses--and trolleys--often play an important role in a restaurant's dinner service, and the Slow Food movement (which originated in Italy) has focused even more attention on the manufacture and presentation of artisanal cheeses.

The Caseus Prize, or Premio Caseus, derives its name from the Latin word for "cheese." It rewards the country's most cheese-conscious restaurateurs and hoteliers with an annual trophy for the best cheese trolley in Italy.

The 2002 Premio Caseus competition (which we covered) took place in Maratea, Italy, but the location changes from year to year.  Competitors, judges, specialty cheesemakers, print journalists from three continents, and Italian TV crews get together for events that range from dairy visits to an awards ceremony and a "final great cheese-tasting."

Caseus Prize cheeses photoThe idea of a trophy for cheese trolleys may sound "wonderfully quirky," to use a British observer's description, but the competitors and judges take Italian cheeses and cheese presentation very seriously--as do some of Italy's best vintners, who donate wines to accompany the dairy products of Italy's most pampered cattle, water buffalo, goats, and sheep.

Competitors have a chance to learn about the finer points of making and serving cheese during the Caseus Prize event. At the Maratea competition, Premio Caseus lecturers and their topics included:

  • Gerard Poulard, a famous French maître formagier, on "Selection of a trolley, from knowledge to research."

  • Jean-Charles Arnaud, the cheese affineur in an ancient Napoleonic fortress in Jura, on "Cheese seasoning and flavor."

  • Marco Parenti, architect and author of the book Resecandi Casei, on "The art of cheese-cutting."

 

Italian cheeses - photo

ABOVE: More than 420 Italian cheeses made an appearance at the second Caseus Prize or Premio Casio competition for the best cheese trolley in Italy.

The Premio Caseus trophy

Caseus Prize bannerThe Caseus Prize itself is a solid silver interpretation of a wooden eating utensil traditionally used by shepherds. Twelve runners-up are awarded bronze utensils. The prizes are cast from an original sculpture by Antonello Leone.

Judging criteria and judges

Caseus Prize competitors are judged on the variety and quality of their trolleys' cheeses, and also on how the cheeses are presented. Many of the more than 420 cheeses in the competition are made in small quantities by artisans, using milk from pasture-fed animals that are milked by hand. Few are available outside Italy, and many can be purchased only in the regions where they're made.

The competition jury is as eclectic as the cheese selection: In 2002, judges included Italian food and wine journalists, a vice-president of Slow Food, Italian TV personalities, and a correspondent and gastronomy writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe.

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