The French were one of the first to start implementing a food production protection system, with the first attempts going back to the middle ages.
Many countries’ current systems were modeled after the modern French one, introduced in 1919. In 1992, the French system was folded into the EU’s unified plan, but the French native acronyms are still used concurrently with the EU ones.
What are French Protected Food Designations?
French food with protected indication is divided into three categories:
AOP: Appellation d'Origine Protégée
Appellation d'Origine Protégée or AOP is equivalent to the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin or PDO indiciation. It’s the strictest classification, the hardest to obtain, and reserved only for products that follow very strict guidelines for the raw materials used, the production method, and the production process.
For a product to qualify for AOP status, it must prove that:
- Its origins are tied to the specific geographic area;
- It’s fully prepared, processed, and produced in the determined geographic area;
- It uses only ingredients produced in that specific geographic area;
- Its characteristic properties are historically tied to and almost exclusively determined by the specific geographic area (such as the recognized know-how of local specialists).
IGP: Indication Géographique Protégée
Indication Géographique Protégée or IGP is equivalent to the EU’s Protected Geographical Indication or PGI status. The rules for qualifying for IGP status are fewer and a bit laxer, but by no means easy. Once again, there must be proof that the product in question is intrinsically tied to the specific geographic area through history, traditions, or production process.
But unlike the AOP status that doesn’t allow any part of the product to be processed, prepared, or produced outside the region, IGP products can qualify as long as either of these processes takes place within the designated geographic area.
In other words, for a product to qualify for IGP status, it must prove that:
- Its origins are linked to the particular geographic area;
- Its characteristic properties are historically tied to and almost exclusively determined by the specific geographic location (such as the recognized know-how of local specialists);
- At least one of the stages between preparation, processing, and production takes part in the determined geographic area.
STG: Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie
Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie or STG is equivalent to the EU’s Traditional Specialty Guaranteed or TSI.
Unlike products granted AOP/PDO or IGP/PGI status, a product with STG/TSI status can be made outside of the area (and even the country) it originates from. But to qualify for a TSI status, it must satisfy specific requirements:
- Either production method or processing must be “traditional,” i.e., proven use of no less than 30 years in the domestic market, a period that allows for transmission between generations;
- The food name must identify with the traditional character of the product;
- Certain raw ingredients must be used if the recipe specifies.
An excellent example of a French STG product would be Berthoud. Berthoud is a baked cheese dish that can be made anywhere in the world. But an authentic Berthoud can only be made following a specific recipe: mixing the Abondance cheese with Savoy wine, either Madeira or Port, and flavoring it with garlic, pepper, and (optionally) nutmeg. A Berthoud that doesn’t use Abondance cheese or is flavored with a different mix of spices isn’t an STG product.
Top 12 Protected French Products All Epicurians Must Try:
As STG products are more often dependent on the cooking process and ingredients but can be made anywhere in the world, in the article below, we’ll concentrate on AOP/PDO or IGP/PGI products.
The following 12 foods are some of the most famous French culinary icons that can only ever be produced in France within their designated geographic areas. If any other EU state (or a state the EU has trade relations with) produces these products, they’re committing fraud, and the products are considered low-quality counterfeit.
Roquefort Cheese, AOP
Roquefort is the world’s most famous blue cheese, often called the “cheese of Kings.” It’s often considered the original blue cheese. Roquefort is made from fresh and unpasteurized sheep’s milk that must come only from the local Lacaune breed of sheep. It gets its blue veins from the Penicillium Roqueforti fungus of Combalou caves in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
Authentic Roquefort cheese has a complex, multi-layered flavor. The primary notes are savory and salty, with a sharp, acidic tang, but there are also distinct nuttiness and earthiness typical to sheep cheese, and even subtle sweetness with a tiny hint of caramel.
Roquefort cheese is widely considered to be the first protected French product. Its production was first regulated in 1411 when Charles VI granted a monopoly for cheese ripening to the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. It was granted AOC status in 1925, which translated into AOP once AOC was phased out. In 1992, it automatically got the PDO status once the EU implemented the unified system.
Pâtes d’Alsace, IGP
Pâtes d’Alsace, or Alsace egg pasta, is a signature product of the Alsace region and is made only in factories located within its borders. What qualifies the pasta for the IGP status are the strict guidelines regarding the raw materials and the recipe it must follow. This type of pasta is made only with high-quality French durum wheat semolina and calls for strictly 320g of fresh eggs per 2.2 pounds of flour. Adding water isn’t allowed.
The recipe produces pasta with firm, but springy and chewy pasta, with a robust and rich taste due to the high egg-to-flour ratio.
Beurre d'Isigny, AOP
Beurre d’Isigny or Isigny butter is an AOP product, which means it’s made with raw ingredients sourced in the area, prepared there from start to finish, and must follow a strict recipe to qualify.
Isigny butter is made with cow’s milk and cream from Bessin and Contentin. No milk or cream sourced from other regions is allowed. Any addition of colorings, antioxidants, or other substances is allowed. It’s supposed to have a rich, creamy flavor with a slight sweetness and hints of nuttiness.
Despite being a pure cream product, authentic Isigny butter is supposed to have a deep golden-yellow color. This is because the milk is sourced from the cows that pasture on grass grown in chalky, clay soil rich in iodine and beta-carotene. It makes the butter rich in carotenoids and gives it a naturally deep color.
Authentic Isigny butter can only be produced in specific municipal areas no further than 30 km from Isigny-Sur-Mer.
Crème d’Isigny, AOP
Isigny Creme Fraiche might not be as famous as Isigny butter, but it still has a rather big claim to fame: it’s the only French cream with protected status.
Isigny Creme Fraiche follows the same rules as Isigny butter: only cream from Bessin and Contentin, and no additives like colorings, antioxidants, or other substances are allowed.
Creme d’Isigny has a smooth velvety texture and rich, slightly sourish taste, with noticeable nutty undertones.
Brie de Meaux Cheese, AOP
General names cannot be afforded protected status, so Brie cheese itself is not a protected product. But several types of Brie cheese are, including Brie de Meaux.
Brie de Meaux is likely the most famous soft French cheese in the world and only second to Roquefort in fame as French cheese goes. It’s produced exclusively in the Île-de-France area (near Paris).
Brie de Meaux is made with unpasteurized cow milk and matured on straw mats in deep cellars. This combination produces an uncharacteristically robust flavor for usually mellow Brie cheese, which is intensely buttery with notable nutty undertones.
Brie de Meaux also has a very distinct shape, much flatter than other Brie cheese varieties.
Camembert de Normandie Cheese, AOP
Another famous soft French cheese, Camembert, encountered a similar problem as Brie: it couldn’t be given a protected designation because general names cannot be given a protected designation. So Camembert cheese can be produced anywhere in the world, but Camembert de Normandie, specifically, Normandy’s most famous specialty, could and was.
Camembert de Normandie is traditionally made with unpasteurized milk. However, production has been slowly switching towards pasteurized milk, primarily due to the export complications with unpasteurized cheese. Camembert de Normandie, made with unpasteurized raw milk, is often marked as Au Lait Cru.
Camembert de Normandie has a smooth and runny paste and a rich buttery flavor with grassy and earthy undertones.
Reblochon Cheese, AOP
Reblochon is a semi-soft French cheese somewhat reminiscent of Brie and Camembert in appearance but with a darker color both to the rind and the paste.
Reblochon is a specialty of Savoie and Haute-Savoie. It’s made with unpasteurized cow’s milk and has a mild, somewhat fruity taste with strong nutty undertones.
Where Brie and Camembert’s rind is white in color, Reblochon’s ranges from dark yellow to bright orange. The paste itself is also darker, with a distinct orange hue.
Le Puy Green Lentils, AOP
Le Puy green lentils are one of the most unique products on this list. They’re sometimes called Velay Caviar, and they were the first legume to be awarded PDO status by the EU. It happened in 2009.
Le Puy green lentils have been grown in the Auvergne region’s Le Puy prefecture (namely, in the commune of Le Puy-en-Velay) for over 2000 years. They have a distinctly more peppery and flinty flavor than regular lentils. This is due to the climate and soil in which they’re grown: at altitudes of about 2,000 to 4,000 ft, in rich volcanic soil.
They have a bluish hue to them, which comes from anthocyanins - the pigment responsible for giving blueberries and black grapes their colors.
Miel d’Alsace, IGP
Honey is another product from the Alsace region that has gotten the privilege of IGP designation. It got the honor in 2005.
There are six different varieties (chestnut, acacia, silver fir, forest, multi-flower, and lime) of Alsace honey, each with its distinct characteristics:
- Chestnut honey has a tannic taste with an aroma reminiscent of apples, and the color veers toward darker brown;
- Acacia honey has a mild floral flavor, a recognizable smell of acacia flowers, and light color;
- Silver fir honey has a malty taste, a balsamic odor, and a deep brown color;
- Forest honey has a robust, stringent, and woody taste but a light, slightly musky smell reminiscent of a honeydew; its color is intense dark brown;
- Multi-flower honey has a sweet taste and a robust flowery aroma, with a color that veers on the lighter side;
- Lime honey has a complex flavor with distinct bitterness to it, a cool, menthol-y aroma, and the color ranges from light to dark yellow.
Piment d'Espelette, AOP
A specialty of Pyrénées-Atlantiques region’s Espelette commune, Piment d’Espelette is a fiery red, moderately hot chili pepper.
Piment d’Espelette has a complex and piquant flavor, fruity and smoky. It’s sold either whole, strung in pairs on a string, or ground into a powder.
Piment d’Espelette was traditionally mainly used for curing ham. Nowadays, it’s a more versatile product, especially in its powdered form, often used to flavor seafood and poultry-based dishes and sometimes even snuck into desserts like chocolate.
Ossau-Iraty Cheese, AOP
Quite possibly the least well-known entry on this list, Ossau-Iraty is one of only three French sheep milk cheese varieties that has been granted the AOP status by the French authorities (and subsequently the EU), others being Roquefort and Brocciu. It became the second to obtain the honor after Roquefort in 1980.
Ossau-Iraty is a semi-hard uncooked cheese made through pressing. The milk used in production can only come from Basco-béarnaise, Red-face Manech, or Black-face Manech sheep breeds. Ossau-Iraty is supposed to have a firm texture with rare small eyes and a smooth, creamy flavor with sharp, nutty, and earthy undertones.
Comté Cheese, AOP
It’s only fair we finish the list with another iconic French cheese. If Roquefort is the “cheese of Kings,” Comté is the French people’s favorite cheese. At about 66,500 tonnes annually, it has the highest production numbers of all French cheese with the protected designation.
Comté is a hard cheese made with unpasteurized cow milk. As the milk obtained from cows for Comté cheese must be used immediately, Its flavor profile is hard to pin down since the last thing the cow ate will influence the flavor. It can range from mild and milky to peppery to fruity, earthy, and buttery. Each wheel is professed to be unique.
Comté Cheese is the product of the Franche-Comté region.
Visit Yummy Bazaar’s Online French Grocery Store for More:
You’ll quickly find authentic Roquefort cheese PDO, Isigny butter, and other gourmet-quality French products at Yummy Bazaar’s online French grocery store. All you need to do is add your favorites to your cart, and we’ll ensure it gets delivered right to your doorstep ASAP.