Although all of these abbreviations on food and wine labels seem confusing, they guarantee that a food or wine product will taste as it traditionally should. It’s labeling a product for reliability, quality and tradition.
DOP stands for Denominazione d’Origine Protetta. This mark is guaranteed by the European Community (EU) and was created to promote the authenticity and artisan characteristics of certain food and agricultural products. These products are split into the categories of cheese, fruit and vegetables, salumi (or meats), and olive oils. A DOP certification guarantees that a product and all phases of production for that product have been carried out in a strictly defined geographic area. With some products, this could be just a small cluster of villages. Although some are easily recognized, such as prosciutto di Parma, aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena, and Parmiggiano Reggiano, others are not so commonly known, such as pomodoro Pachino – a special tomato from Pachino, Sicily- or Raschera cheese from Piemonte.
IGP stands for Indicazione Geografica Protetta. This applies to agricultural products or foodstuffs whose qualities and/or reputation are derived from their geographical origin and whose production and/or transformation or processing occurs in the given geographical area. Not as strict as DOP, the key is that, for a product to qualify, only part of the production needs to have taken place in the designated area. An example is bresaola della Valtellina, the air-dried beef from the alpine north. The product is dried in the Valtellina, using the traditions of the area and the skills of local workers, but the beef itself doesn’t have to come from the region.
DOC and DOCG
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita were created to legally define wine production zones and production formulas for what were once simple farmhouse wines. DOC denotes a wine made within an officially delimited geographic zone, from an officially prescribed grape or blend of grapes. Even more rigidly controlled are those wines labeled DOCG. The previously mentioned IGP can also be used to signify that the wine is from a particular geographic area. Unfortunately, DOC, DOCG and IGP don’t really guarantee quality – they are just a means of classification.
Why look for DOP?
The market for “Italian-sounding” products is incredibly strong in America, but the amount of poor-quality imitations is astounding. Have a quick look around the grocery store and you will see Italian images, colors and brands. But look further and you’ll notice the label will have no indication that the product was actually made in Italy. Based on data prepared by the research center of Federalimentare (the association of the Italian food and beverage industry) the ratio of Italian food imitations and counterfeits to authentic products is 10 to 1. These agro-pirating industries have been growing at a dizzying rate of at least 20% a year.
Yes, there are some domestic products available that are made in the same style as they would be made in Italy, but this is often confusing. For instance, our government has not allowed Genoa salami to be imported to this country for over 35 years, but we can buy “Genoa style” salami…and if it’s labeled as imported, it’s from Canada.
We need to be mindful eaters. Better-tasting ingredients can improve the flavor of your food and your eating experience. Learn about the food you eat – look at it, smell it, taste it. Where did it come from? Does it have a shelf life? Is it authentic? Any chef will tell you that the quality of your cooking most often depends on the choices you make before you begin to cook. I’m convinced that smaller quantities of better tasting ingredients will result in a more enjoyable and healthful food experience.