Italy is renowned worldwide for its gastronomy and that gastronomy is part of our history, culture and tradition," says Davide Nardini, vice-president of the Council for the Province of Ferrara. "Here in Italy, food is an expression of our cultural heritage," adds Carlo Alberto Roncarati, president of the Chamber of Commerce. "Each area has its own history and intrinsic character. You can see that even in our bread and, if you don’t protect it, you lose your identity, you lose what sets you apart."
These comments underline a much wider debate - one that is taking place both in Italy and across Europe. The debate’s starting point dates back to 1992, when the EU introduced the Protected Food Name (EUPFN) scheme. This originated as a mechanism to protect, by legislation, particular product names linked either to territory or to a production method. The aim of the scheme was threefold: to encourage diverse agricultural production; to protect quality products from inferior imitation; and to provide consumers with more informed choice and a better guarantee of quality.
In Italy, the scheme has met with an enthusiastic reception. Almost 160 food products have successfully attained one of the three scheme designations - Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) or Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) - with many more applications in the pipeline (only France comes close, with 152). The list includes household names such as Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, Parmesan cheese and Parma ham. There are currently three breads in the designated directory. Most famous, perhaps, and the first bread product in Europe to have achieved PDO status, is Pane di Altamura. Also included are the Pane Casareccio di Genzano and the Coppia Ferrarese, both with PGI status.
The long road to PGI
At the Fiera Liberamente 2008 (literally Free-Time Fair), held in early March in the city of Ferrara in Emilia Romagna, senior local government executives responsible for promoting Ferrara’s PGI status bread and some of the bakers responsible for baking it explained how the consortium took the decision to embark on the time-consuming and, at times, tortuous process to gain protected designation status. The answer lies, at least in part, in the place that food generally holds in Italian society.
Maria Chiara Ronchi, director of tourism initiatives, noted: "Historical cities are not just founded on their monuments, but also on their gastronomy." In other words, in Italy, gastronomy and place are synonymous. Italians think of Ferrara and they think both of its Renaissance architecture (which, incidentally, holds UNESCO World Heritage status) and its bread! Recognition of Ferrara’s distinctive bread, vice-president Nardini suggests, in some small way goes towards attracting some of the estimated eight million home-bred ’gastro-tourists’, who wander annually throughout the country.
Mario Partigiani, president of the FIESA Bakers’ Association (a national organisation), and proprietor of one of the province’s 300-odd artisan bakeries, was more pragmatic. "If the product you make is transportable or exportable," he said, "the benefits can be significant."
One does not have to look far to see what he means: both Parma ham and cheese come from the same region. But unfortunately, Coppia Ferrarese does not travel so well. It’s a fragile bread and besides, if it were refrigerated at any stage in the process, it would lose its PGI status. But the problems do not end once your product has achieved designated status, Partigiani explains. "Perhaps the greatest difficulty lies in policing. Because bread is a low-cost product, the expense of policing your status can be difficult to bear."
The EU scheme does not make provision for the cost of policing a product’s protected status. This must be borne by the producers involved. While for a product such as Parma ham the cost might well be considered acceptable (even feasible), for a provincial product such as Coppia Ferrarese, this issue is undoubtedly more problematic. Notwithstanding this particular downside, support for the scheme in Italy remains high, with nearly 160 products designated and a further 80 applications awaiting approval.
Here in the UK, the EUPFN scheme has met with a more lukewarm reception. Even Irene Bocchetta, manager of Food from Britain, the UK body responsible for handling applications made by producers, admits that "at the moment [the scheme] is really low on the radar". As yet, only 36 products have been designated in the UK and the British baking industry has only just staked its first claims: Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, which were the first to cross the finish line, with their 2004 application recently approved; and Cornish Pasties, which are awaiting Defra backing for an application.
But why the UK response has been so different to that in countries such as Italy and France is difficult to say. It’s a complex issue, Bocchetta explains. Producer, retailer, consumer and media awareness are all equally important, but to different degrees lacking at the moment. Part of the problem, she suggests, is an inherent reluctance in the bakery world to share recipes. As individuals are not eligible to apply for protected status, the onus is on expert groups to come together, agree on a historical precedent as well as an original recipe and then submit an application. Yet herein lie a number of potential sticking points. Historical precedents are prone to dispute and methods can, and do, vary from one baker to the next.
On these matters, artisan baker and author Dan Lepard, who is writing a history of British baking, has reservations on both the issues of origin and method. He cites the example of Cornish pasties. Can you really award ’Cornish’ pasties special status when there is emerging evidence that the earliest recipe can be found across the river in Devon (tinyurl.com/3oz4b4)? On methods of production, Lepard says there are four or five traditional methods of making Eccles Cakes, for example. "They’re all correct, none of them are wrong," he adds.
Lepard’s argument is that generic products such as this have been made all over the country for such a long time, that it is too late now to introduce a special status, which might only benefit a limited number of producers and possibly disadvantage others. It is not that he is opposed to the scheme - in fact, he welcomes any mechanism that might afford a level of protection to smaller groups of artisan bakers. But he believes it is wrong "to enshrine in legislation" one particular method over another without conclusive weight of evidence.
So how might the EUPFN scheme benefit UK bakers? Inevitably, more baked goods will soon follow in the path of Melton Mowbray Pies. The debate is set to continue and although it’s likely to become heated, surely, at the very least, there must be potential to raise the flag of the UK’s rich and diverse heritage in this field.
Returning to Italy, one thing is clear: Italians are proud of their bread and are not afraid to shout its heritage from the bell towers. In Ferrara, the Coppia Ferrarese has been symbolic of the city and its history for centuries and few would dispute its claim to designated protected status. Indeed, in some small way, the Coppia is what sets this city apart.
=== The EUPFN (EU Protected Food Name) scheme ===
Started in 1992-3, the scheme aims:
* To encourage diverse agricultural production
* To protect product names from misuse and imitation
* To help consumers by giving them information concerning the specific character of the products
There are 3 designations
1. PDO - Protected Designation of Origin: this covers foodstuffs that are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area, using recognised knowhow.
2. PGI - Protected Geographical Indication: covers products where the geographical link occurs in at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation. Also, the product must have a good reputation or historical pedigree dating back at least 25 years.
3. TSG - Traditional Speciality Guaranteed: does not refer to the origin but highlights traditional character, either in the composition or means of production.
For more information on the EUPFN scheme see: tinyurl.com/5yfl4z
=== The making of Coppia Ferrarese ===
Ferrara Coppia is a type of bread in the shape of two ribbons of dough, knotted together, with the ends twisted to form a fan with four spokes. Records of this bread date back to 1287, with city statutes compelling city bakers to produce bread in the shape of scrolls. The history of Coppia is well-documented and intertwined with the history of the city. Coppia obtained PGI status in 2001. To qualify, the bread must be made within the province and cannot be refrigerated at any stage during the process. The dough must be cooked directly on stone, composed only of natural ingredients with no chemicals added, and weigh between 80-230g. Today there are over 300 bakeries in the Province of Ferrara, mostly small family-run operations, producing over 500 tons of Coppia every year.
=== Gingerbread wars: coming to blows over trademarks and protected status ===
The sleepy village of Grasmere in the Lake District is the scene of an almighty battle over rights to naming a traditional local product, writes Andrew Williams. Café Williams and Sara Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread have come to blows over the issue of rights to the name, claims Steve Bell of Café Williams, who fears one larger producer would monopolise a local product.
Bell says he stumbled upon a trademark application, lodged by Sara Nelson’s, on the internet. He is fighting the application as he claims it would give one company sole rights to the name Grasmere Gingerbread. With a trademark in place, its owner could sell it to a larger company; claim ’passing off’ if another firm sells gingerbread in Grasmere; and even move its production out of the region. Bell is advocating EU protected status instead. But objecting has been costly, with thousands spent in legal fees.
"My main concern about this application is that it gives them sole right to what is a village legacy," he says. "They could, for example, sell the name, then prevent it from being made in the village by another. I advise anyone who makes a local food to keep one eye on the IPO website for such applications. I would love a regional status and I still hope that a local solution can be found that ensures this product remains in Grasmere."
But Andrew Hunter of Sara Nelson’s insists protected status is not the answer. "Grasmere Gingerbread is different in that it has been exclusively produced by one single establishment, namely The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop in Grasmere, for more than 150 years. It’s not a regional name used widely by a number of producers. To allow this would result in The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop giving up its hard-earned reputation and goodwill, established over many decades of producing a consistent and premium-level product."