Protecting Terroir

Protecting Terroir

What makes a food product unique to one region, and how do countries in the EU and elsewhere protect them in law?

Prosciutto di Parma or “Parma ham” bears a brand, the outline of a crown with the word “PARMA” inside it, given to it by the consorzio (or producer consortium) who oversee its production and marketing. On the packaged product you will also see another mark, a red and yellow circular logo depicting a rural scene surrounded by the words “Protected Designation of Origin”, or PDO for short. The PDO certificate is one of three protected food name schemes under the EU’s food quality policy.

Its certificate indicates that the name of the product, with its geographical indication (GI) – in this case Parma – has been given protection under European law because it is proven to have inherent links to the area in which it was produced, and unique characteristics linked to that place.

A product that bears the protected name Parma ham or Prosciutto di Parma must meet specific requirements: it is produced only from the hind leg of certain heritage breed pigs reared to specified standards, and the hams must be produced in the area around Parma in the Emilia- Romagna region of Italy using only salt, air, and time – absolutely no additives or preservatives may be added. The production standards and methods, including length of aging (400-plus days), are prescriptive but the key aspect of its protection is something less tangible – terroir. The producers of Prosciutto di Parma believe that what makes it truly unique and special, what gives it the characteristics that make it stand alone, is the “sweet, dry and aromatic” mountain air of Emilia-Romagna. This, coupled with local expertise developed since Roman times, means the product cannot be replicated elsewhere and only ham produced in the region should bear the name Parma ham. This geographical indication protects the producers in the region and guarantees the quality of the product.

What are GIs?
A geographical indication on a food, drink or agricultural product is a name that indicates the geographical origin of the product, but also infers some quality, characteristic or reputation attributable to that origin. Such names indicate not only where a product is from, but also highlight a strong link between the product and its place of production, since its qualities depend on that place.

The EU regulations for geographical indications, introduced in 1992, owe a lot to older French and other Southern European member states’ systems and were heavily influenced by their basis in the concept of “terroir.” The EU has three certificates in place to protect the quality of regional traditional and specialty foods. Protected designation of origin (PDO), the recognition given to Parma ham and products such as champagne, is the most stringent of these, implying the strongest possible link to the area. It is for products whose quality or characteristics are “essentially or exclusively due to the particular geographical environment with its inherent natural and human factors, and the production, processing and preparation of which takes place in the defined geographical area.”

Read the article in full via ScanNews.

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