Last night I’ve attended a delicious Italian foods event focusing on the Denominazione di origine controllata, hosted by Italian Trade Agency at Osteria del Principe. The mentioned Italian phrase literally meant as “controlled designation of origin,” it is a quality assurance label for Italian food products, especially wines and various cheeses (DOP — Denominazione di Origine Protetta, “Protected Designation of Origin”). This is modeled after the French AOC. It was instituted in 1963 and overhauled in 1992 for compliance with the equivalent EU law on Protected Designation of Origin, which came into effect that year.
As the the name suggests, this certification ensures that products are locally grown and packaged. And it makes a promise to the consumer: It’s a guarantee that the food was made by local farmers and artisans, using traditional methods. In fact, by law, only DOP products like balsamic vinegar can carry the word “traditional” on their labels, because they adhere to local traditions. The DOP label may bring a higher price tag with it but it also the highest quality product.
Italian specialties get DOP recognition by following a strict set of guidelines: Every step, from production to packaging, is regulated.
Of course, not all local Italian specialties are recognized as DOP. Even more confusing, though, you have to always look for the DOP label to ensure the product is DOP. For example, mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) is a DOP product but only certain brands carry the seal. Other types of mozzarella di bufala, therefore, aren’t necessarily made in the traditional way, with the traditional ingredients; only the DOP varieties are.
The “DOP” is not the only label. You may also find the IGP, Indicazione Geografica Protetta (“indication of geographical protection”), label on Italian products. While also well respected, this certification is less strict than DOP. It traces food specialties back to their geographical origin to at least one phase in production, but not to all phases, like DOP.
Some of the items that might bear the DOP seal of approval are:
Parmigiano Reggiano DOP from Emilia Romagna, Lombardia region: Perfect plain, paired with fruit or grated on a plate of pasta, this hard and salty cheese is aged for a minimum of 16 months.
Grana Padano DOP is a sweet, yet savory, grainy textured (hence the word grana) Italian cheese. It is matured for a minimum of 12 months with a sharper and saltier flavor than Parmigiano Reggiano DOP.
Olive oil from regions like Abruzzo, Calabria, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Puglia, Sicily, Tuscany, and Veneto: This staple has the largest number of DOP varieties of any Italian food specialty, and it comes from many different Italian regions. Some regions even have multiple DOP oils from different areas!
Balsamic vinegar from Emilia Romagna: DOP balsamic vinegar, from Modena and Reggio Emilia, has a thicker consistency and richer taste than most other vinegars on the market—and can be aged for over 12 years.
Prosciutto from regions like Emilia Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Le Marche, Tuscany, Veneto: The many moutwatering varities of savory, smoked ham (Modena, Parma, Carpegna, Toscano, Veneto, San Daniele) vary in smokiness, aged and color.
Mortadella di Bologna IGP is made using a blend of finely ground pork, strips of lard taken from the neck area, salt, whole peppercorns, spices and aromatic herbs and occasionally shelled pistachios. The mixture is stuffed into a natural or synthetic casing and then cooked. The sausages is cooked in stoves with dry heat until the internal temperature reaches 158°F. The mortadella is then cooled quickly until it is about 50°F and stored in refrigerated cells in order to conserve the sausage’s aroma and flavor. This isn’t the sodium filled sandwich meat that we have as American children. The mortadella tastes amazing.
You may head over to this cool, interactive Google site about Italian made products.