Almost 15 years ago, the European Union (EU) introduced a system of certified labels to guarantee to consumers that certain products meet a "quality" standard. There are over 700 products available that carry at least one of the four labels - Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indication, Traditional Specialty Guaranteed, and Organic.
When the EU certifies the product to a "quality" standard, they don't mean that is tastes better, is more healthful, or lives up to a certain culinary expectation. It means that it has fulfilled the requirements of authenticity - that is, the product came from where it says it came from, was made in the traditional method, or was made with mostly organic ingredients.
Various products can be registered by the groups producing the good. They do this by filling out an application detailing the steps and specifications that make a particular product unique to that region and submitting it to their governing country. If the product is deemed to qualify, it is then passed onto the EU Commission and, eventually, may be added as a registered protected product.
PDO - Protected Designation of Origin
The most stringent of the "yellow" labels, the PDO label is used on a product that is certified as having taken place in a specific geographical area. The product must be exclusive to the region that is designated and the raw materials used to create the product must also be from the defined area. An example of this is Parmigiano Reggiano which must be made from cow's milk from a particular region in Italy (Provinces of Parma, Reggio-Emilia and Modena, and a few neighboring areas) and be made there as well in order to carry the PDO label. Another example is Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena) which must be made from grapes in Modena, fermented and matured a minimum of 12 years there (25 years to qualify as "extravecchio"), and bottled into 100-mL bottles in order to receive the label.}?>
PGI - Protected Geographical Indication
Some products are also associated strongly to a geographic area, but not all the ingredients may come from that region. These products may carry the less stringent (than the PDO) label of PGI. The products carrying the PGI label must have at least one of its steps take place in the geographic region whose name it bears. Black Forest Ham (Schwarzwälder Schinken) is a product that can be found bearing the PGI label if it is produced in the Black Forest region of Germany using traditional recipes and finished by smoking over pine wood chips from the fir trees of that region.
TSG - Traditional Specialty Guaranteed
The least stringent of the three, TSG labels certify that the product has been made with a long standing traditional method but is not linked to any specific geography. Serrano Ham is a product that used to be only made in the mountains of Spain, but is now made throughout Spain (and possibly the rest of the world) in artificially controlled environments designed to replicate the conditions found in the mountains. The ham produced within Spain and following traditional curing techniques is eligible for the TSG label.
While the first three labels are tied to a specific product family and are exclusive (a PDO outranks a PGI outranks a TSG), the Organic label can be applied to PDO, PGI, TSG, or unlabelled products. To qualify for the label, at least 95% of the ingredients of the product must be organically produced.
Most types of foods and beverages traditionally prepared in Europe can apply for Designations of Quality. The exceptions are wines and spirits (which are protected under separate EU legislation).
According to the EU, the goal of these labels is to prevent "imitators" from passing for genuine products. Since most of the products contain the name of a geographic location, it does make sense to label the product in such a way as to determine whether or not the product was made traditionally or with modern techniques. However, the EU uses titles like "Designation of Quality" and "Guarantees of Excellence" when referring to these labels, which I feel gives the wrong impression. In my mind, it is not necessarily the case that preparing foods in a traditional fashion will result in a superior product (or even one that most approximates the characteristics of a similar product produced a century before) because not adapting or evolving methods will often result in a different product because of the ever changing nature of our ingredients which are living and changing from generation to generation. In any case, these labels should give those who wish to try products produced as close to their traditional methods an easy way to determine which ones to buy. If anything, the labeling should help the artisan producers of the various European regions by calling out their products.}?>
European Designation of Quality Labels
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