I am pretty sure every European citizen has already seen these little golden seals on the packaging of agricultural products and foodstuffs.
For example if I look on my kitchen table now, the first thing I see is “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” from Italy with a nice blue circle saying “Protected Geographical Indication”.
Well, this sounds very good, and all these marks are pretty nice and familiar, but… Do we exactly know what we are gaining with them? Is it good for us at all if we pour vinegar from Italy on our salad , or put Feta from Greece or salami from Hungary on our sandwich?
To make this all clear at the beginning: These lables are the part of the quality policy of the European Union (concerning agricultural products and foodstuffs). The aim is to promote quality within the EU, and help quality production.
This way the consumers can be informed about the special characteristics of the product and they can be sure that the foodstuff they buy is real (no counterfeit).
Let’s start with that nice red circle, which says “Protected Designation of Origin” (aka PDO).
As you can guess already from the name, PDO means not more and not less, than “agricultural products and foodstuffs which are produced, processes and prepared in a given geographical area using recognised know-how.”
So two main points: 1. everything must be done in the area; 2. with a recognised technique.
This is the strictest of all three categories, when we buy products with this label, we definitely get what we expect.
And just to help you imagine such products here are some examples from the DOOR list:
The next category, “Protected Geographical Indication” (PGI) is sligtly less strict. Unlike the PDO, here it is enough to have at least one of the stages of production, processing and preparation in the area to which the prouct is closely linked.
Delicious examples here:
1. Oravský korbáčik (SK) 2. Cafe de Colombia (CO) 3. Gloucestershire cider (UK)
(In case you are wondering… Yes, products outside of the EU can also obtain protection. For example Andorra, China and Norway also have protected products.)
And last but not least, the “Traditional Speciality Guaranteed” (TSG). This is the least strict category in terms of production. These are products which emphasise traditional character (either in the product itself or in the way of production).
Just to know what we are talking about:
1. Kriek (BE) 2. Jamón Serrano (ES) 3. Belokranjska pogača (SI)
Maybe you started wondering in the meantime… But where are the wines and spirits? Actually, many times (I would say) they are indeed the most characteristic and famous specialities of our countries.
Well, no worries, they also have their own list, the E-Bacchus and E-Spirit-Drinks with similar categories.
1. Port Wine (PT) 2. Champagne (FR) 3. Rioja (ES)
4. Irish Cream (IR) 5. Pálinka (HU), Bison Grass Vodka/Żubrówka (PL)
So to sum it up: These indications help us consumers to eat and drink the exact quality and product that we would like to. If we choose foodstuffs with these indications we can be sure that we pay for a good food/drink experience.
Honestly, this makes me happy quite a lot, but during browsing these products now, I had to realise a shocking fact: Most of these foods and drinks I have never heard about in my entire life. Of course I know those of my country, mostly the neigbouring countries and those countries I lived in or visited… But the rest are really obscure and totally unknown for me. And I suppose, I am not alone with this.
So a big question (or doubt) comes to my mind… Would I buy these products? Would I buy e.g. a fish from Finland or sausage from Bulgaria which I have never heard about and it is considerably more expensive than other similar products? Would a single blue and golden sign, a single promise of good quality convince me?
On the other hand, would I buy a reasonably expensive Jamón Serrano or Mozzarella di bufala just because I would like to eat that quality? Well, most probably yes. Because I know these products, tried them and trust them. I know that I can trust them through my personal experience, and the golden sign makes my even more reassured of my choice.
Bottomline: Personally, I consider the indications useful and I think they are a good and necessary idea. We need security in our choice and the possibility to choose real quality, hence decide about the future of European agricultural production by our consumption.
However, in order to make the validity of these signs broader, intensive campaigns would also be necessary to make people know and memorise these products. To have an even more informed choice about what we, Europeans eat; to introduce more European tastes to our already international diet and learn to accept and like each others’ culture even more. Because honestly, I have never seen anyting stronger than and food and drinks to connect people and cultures.