Monday, 25 April 2011

Who do you think brought you the AOCs, the IGPs, the PDOs and Italy’s DOC?

"The failure to protect Cheddar is perhaps the greatest mistake of trademark history” (Towt, 1911). Only 36 years after the very first trademark (Bass’ Red Triangle on their beer kegs), Cheddar makers had sprung up everywhere. The empire had grown; farmers, convicts and cheesemakers spread to the promised lands, taking with them their techniques and traditions of cheesemaking. And with them, the names of the methods and towns they originated from. Canadian Red Leicester, New Zealand Cheddar and Australian Cheshire would soon grace our shores, whilst the town of Cheddar even lost its last cheese producer.

Yet, the small town of Cheddar in Somerset lives on: it has regained a cheesemaker within the town; even now maturing his cheese in the famous Cheddar Gorge. But the name Cheddar can never again be specific to just one area, as it is ruled to have become generic. The same is true of Lancashire, Cheshire, Red Leicester, Brie, Camembert…

Luckily the UK managed to protect Stilton (retrospectively in 1966) with a trademark, so it can only be made to a traditional recipe within the counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

This trademark now is enveloped in part of the EU protection system: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP): a red circle with a gold border and stars, (the two acronyms mean the same thing). This designation has now taken precedence over existing systems throughout Europe: the AOC of France; the DOCs of Portugal and Italy, the DO Spain and the old PDO (same symbol in blue). Although you may still find these mentioned, they are being phased out and replaced by the universal PDO symbol.

The new legislation also saw the creation of the less strict IGP symbol (guarantees the product came from an area) and the TSG symbol (guarantees the product is made to traditional methods).

The PDO structure is based on that of the Appellation d’Origine Controlée of France. France first protected its cheese in 1407, when Charles VI stated the protection of Roquefort was necessary. And in 1666 the name Roquefort became legally bound only be used on cheeses of that region that had been aged in the famous caves of Combalou.

This AOC structure was designed to protect traditions and regional foods, so that foods and wines remain with their regional association, methods, local ingredients and influences. For example an Epoisses is a testament to that area – not merely a method of manufacture (as that can be reproduced anywhere), not even local raw materials, but climate, soil, geography, treatments, animal breeds, harvesting times and local environmental factors (such as the natural moulds in Roquefort’s Combalou caves). This is all summed up in the French word ‘terroir’.

However do be wary: PDO DOES NOT guarantee quality. On the basic level it just guarantees the product is produced to a basic way in a certain area (some PDOs are very strict, others very lenient). Some people choose a PDO or AOC cheese trusting it will be a great cheese; this is a mistake because there is massive variance between the products within this protection (often with the same name). I do not think of the PDO as an indicator of quality, just as an indicator of where the product will have been produced and to what style.

The relative merits and shortcomings of PDO are discussed in my next blog.

EU Protection Symbols and Details:

The PDO legislation applies throughout EU, but not to other countries. Many other countries do, however, agree to uphold the protection of many of these names (but not on all products).

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO/AOP)

Open to products which are produced, processed and prepared within a particular geographical area, and with features and characteristics which must be due to the geographical area, e.g. Stilton, Roquefort, Comté.

Protected Geographical Indication (PGI/IGP)

Open to products, which must be produced or processed or prepared within the geographical area and have a reputation, features or certain qualities attributable to that area. Not as strictly controlled or regulated as PDO, and generally not as recognized, e.g. Tomme de Savoie.

Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG/STG)

Open to products which are traditional or have customary names and have a set of features which distinguish them from other similar products. These features must not be due to the geographical area the product is produced in, nor entirely based on technical advances in the method of production. This protects tradition rather than origin (and is in fact rarely applied for or used; although Mozzerella TSG does guarantee that it’s made in a traditional style).

Note the Swiss conform to these laws and have their own, similar symbols:

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