By Claudia Quesito
Italian food and cuisine need no introduction; they are universally well known. Being famous comes with its own risks, though: dubious mozzarella-like-cheeses, improbable “Parmesans” (the name itself makes Italians fall from their chairs), squeezable pesto pouches, pizza with tortellini…
To avoid these mistreatments, the European Union grants special protection to products that are made in specific geographic areas and in compliance with certain specifications. Specifically, the EU system is based on three certifications: DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta), IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta), and STG (Specialità Tradizionale Garantita).
The DOP grants the strictest protection and it’s the hardest status to obtain. The product has to be from a specific region and its features must be precisely related to that region. In addition, the product needs to be produced, processed and prepared exclusively in that region.
Among the Italian DOP products, there are Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto di Parma, and mozzarella di bufala campana. These products are distinctively related to the areas where they are made. For instance, thanks to an almost magical combination of certain cows, the grass they are fed, water, and human know-how, you simply cannot make Parmigiano-Reggiano outside that tiny region between Parma and Reggio (hence the name) and obtain the same thing.
The IGP is a softened DOP; the product must be related to a specific region, but part of the production, processing, and/or preparation can occur elsewhere. Famous Italian IGPs are pomodori di Pachino, burrata di Andria, and lardo di Colonnata.
Finally, the STG covers those products whose raw materials, production, or processing is traditional, meaning passed down through generations for at least 30 years. The STG is the trickiest and least popular of the three certifications. If the product complies with the traditional recipe, the product can in theory be made everywhere in the EU. That explains why STGs only account for 4% of the certified foods and beverages.
Next time you are browsing the supermarket if something does not sound quite right (lasagna sandwich anyone?) do a little research and then go for the real thing!