"Bulgaria is a country that has a strange effect on whoever sees it for the first time, because for many years the desire for beauty and identity around here has been suffocated, forbidden, inhibited, as though it was the expression of an injustice."
Dessislava Dimitrova, a member of the International Council and a driving force behind Slow Food in Bulgaria, is explaining her country to us as we drive through the Balkan mountains. Tcherni Vit is a small town in the middle of an vaguely Alpine-looking landscape, which is starting to attract some tourists but lacks the charm of a typical mountain village.
This is the home of the first Bulgarian Earth Market, established thanks to Dessislava's determination and the town's tireless mayor, Tzvetan Dimitrov. A few years ago he decided to start his time in office with an esthetic act: restoring the beauty and dignity of the small building that housed the town hall, in an attempt to also restore some self-respect to Tcherni Vit.
Tzvetan, aware of the importance of small-scale quality food production in the surrounding area, met Slow Food and helped set up the Presidium for Tcherni Vit Green Cheese, probably the only veined cheese in the Balkans. He began producing this almost-forgotten cheese in his own home, assisted by his wife Tzonka, a teacher who works on food education for our association in Bulgaria.
Together they investigated how to improve the quality of the green cheese, helped by Slow Food experts, and they ended up with an excellent product which proved highly successful at the latest Salone del Gusto in Turin.
The next challenge is the market, held along the River Vit, in front of the local church. The wooden structure that will house it will be ready in May, and is designed to be a community hub, not just a place for selling food. Taste education initiatives will be organized for children and adults and the market will include a store open every day selling the same products that every weekend will be sold directly by the 15 producers from the Teteven area selected by the local Slow Food convivium.
This will be an important opportunity for a place in which the identity of traditional products needs to be brought to light and protected. Hidden and suppressed during the Communist years, scorned in the years immediately following, it was almost regarded as an expression of a past to be ashamed of.
The market represents a small new step towards recovering trust and identity, a step along the path started by Tzvetan Dimitrov and supported by his citizens with a new town hall and a Slow Food Presidium, taking as its starting point what is beautiful and what is good.