Italy was one of the few countries that already had a system for protecting the production of their most prized products. The first one was introduced in 1900 and was in part modeled after the French system, primarily focused on protecting the wines through DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status.
Italy implemented a more modern scheme in 1963, which now runs concurrently with the EU's unifying one. Similar to the French AOC, the DOC denomination is now mainly used to protect Italian wines, though the wines are still assigned PDO labels at the same time.
Italy is the country with the highest number of protected foods under the EU scheme, at 274.
What are Italian Protected Food Designations?
There are three categories of Italian food with protected indication:
DOP: Denominazione di Origine Protetta
Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP 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 DOP 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: Indicazione Geografica Protetta
Indicazione Geografica Protetta 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 DOP 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: Specialità Tradizionali Garantite
Specialità Tradizionali Garantite or STG is equivalent to the EU’s Traditional Specialty Guaranteed or TSI.
Unlike products granted DOP/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 an Italian STG product would be Pizza Napoletana. Neapolitan-style pizza is a simple combination of tomato sauce and mozzarella. It's made all around the world every day. But for an authentic STG product, the Chef needs to use either San Marzano or Piennolo del Vesuvio tomatoes in the sauce and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana for the topping. All three are classified as DOP products. Pizza Napoletana that doesn't use proper tomatoes or cheese isn't an STG product.
Top 12 Protected Italian 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 products can only ever be produced within Italian borders, in their designated geographic areas. If any other EU state (or a state the EU has trade relations with) tries, they'll be committing fraud and producing counterfeit.
Parmigiano Reggiano, DOP
Widely considered "the King of Cheese," Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (i.e., authentic parmesan) is produced in only five provinces. Four in Emilia Romagna (Reggio Emilia, Parma, Bologna, and Modena), and one in Lombardy (Mantua), and only in specific parts at that.
Parmigiano Reggiano is a hard Grana cheese made with unpasteurized grass-fed cow milk through a stir-curd technique. It results in a granular, crumbly texture. Authentic Parmigiano is slightly crunchy, as the body is dotted with tiny crystals (solidified tyrosine amino acid).
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese has a complex flavor, savory and nutty, but with hints of fruits and nuts to it, and even a slight sweetness, especially in younger cheese. The flavor changes as the cheese ripens, getting more savory and umami with bitter undertones.
Pecorino Romano, DOP
Pecorino Romano is another famous Grana cheese. Due to this, it's frequently compared to Parmigiano Reggiano, though they share little similarity beyond hard and crumbly texture. And even here, they differ, as the Pecorino texture is more buttery due to the base ingredient.
Pecorino Romano cheese is made with grass-fed whole sheep milk. It's a Lazio region specialty, and the milk must come exclusively from sheep raised on pastures in Lazio or Sardinia. It has a sharp, salty, and umami flavor, with strong nuttiness to it. As is characteristic of most cheese made with sheep milk, Pecorino Romano also has distinct grassy and earthy notes.
Pasta di Gragnano, IGP
Gragnano is a small coastal town located in Naples, Campania region. The pasta-making tradition goes back to at least the 16th century here. It's even called "Città della Pasta" (it. "City of Pasta").
Gragnano pasta is made with high-quality durum wheat (semolina) flour and low-calcium water from a local aquifer. It has a robust, ripe wheat aroma and nutty semolina flavor, with a firm, elastic, and chewy texture that maintains its shape well when cooked.
Gragnano pasta also has a rougher surface texture than most commercially produced pasta because It's a bronze-dies or bronze-cut pasta. Dies are perforated metal plates that shape and cut pasta, that create a characteristic rough exterior with a particularly high ability to bind with different sauces.
Gragnano pasta has a delicate pale yellow color, which has earned it the moniker of "white gold" among locals.
Pomodoro S. Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino, DOP
Pomodoro S. Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino is a peeled and canned Valle del Sarno-grown San Marzano tomato.
San Marzano tomato is a variety of plum tomatoes with bright red skin, thick meaty flesh, and robust, sweet taste with lower acidity. They peel effortlessly and have almost no seeds. They're widely considered one of the best in the world by professional chefs.
San Marzano tomatoes used for Pomodoro S. Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino are grown only in the Naples, Salerno, and Avellino provinces, south of Mount Vesuvius. The rich volcanic soil plays a crucial part in forming their texture and flavor qualities. Their flesh is more delicate, and the flavor more complex and bittersweet.
Nocciola del Piemonte, IGP
Nocciola del Piemonte or Piedmont Hazelnuts refer to the Tonda Gentile Trilobata cultivar grown in seven provinces of Piedmont region (Alessandria, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, Turin, and Vercelli).
These hazelnuts have a delicate yet full-bodied and long-lasting flavor, robust nutty aroma, and crunchy flesh. They're hard to distinguish from other spherical hazelnuts visually, as their size is non-uniform, and the shell is average: medium-thick, dull brown with gray-sh streaks.
Piedmont hazelnuts are a highly regarded ingredient in the confectionery industry and are widely used in chocolate candy production (including the famous Gianduitto), spreads, ice creams, etc.
The PGI indication covers all types of Piedmont hazelnuts: in-shell, shelled, and semi-processed.
Pistacchio Verde di Bronte, DOP
Pistachios from Bronte, Sicily, are the most famous pistachios in the world. Until 2021, they were the only pistachio variety with a protected indication until another Italian variety, Raffandali, was granted a similar honor.
Bronte pistachios are grown on the slopes of Etna in rich volcanic soil, on trees that get to "rest" every other year. The farmers discard newly formed fruits during "off" years so that the trees can recuperate. The combination of these factors grants Bronte pistachios a bright green color, larger-than-average shape, fatty but crispy texture, intense aroma, and delicate yet robust and long-lasting taste.
Bronte pistachios are sometimes called "green gold" due to the bright emerald color of the fruits.
Aceto Balsamico (Tradizionale), DOP or IGP
Balsamic vinegar is an interesting case. The term balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico) isn't regulated, but three varieties have been granted protected designation, so they can only be manufactured in the Emilia Romagna region, two of them only in Modena.
The difference between the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP and the Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP is the production process. The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP can be made only with Modena-grown grapes and is aged longer (between 12 and 25 years). Meanwhile, the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP can be made with grapes grown anywhere in the Emilia Romagna region and is typically aged for only three years.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP is a cross between the two. It can be produced anywhere in the Emilia Romagna region, but the production process is similar to the DOP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena: it's never aged for less than 12 years.
Basilico Genovese, DOP
Genovese basil is sweet basil (Ocimum Basilicum) grown on the Tyrrhenian side of the Liguria region (Genoa, Savona, and Imperia provinces).
It has a bright green color, medium oval-shaped leaves, and a delicate aroma with no mint traces, unlike many other basil varieties.
Genoise basil is the main ingredient in authentic pesto alla Genovese, though the pesto alla Genovese itself hasn't been granted protected status and can be made with other basil varieties. The DOP or PDO status is usually indicated on the label if the sauce uses Genoise basil.
Cantuccini Toscani, IGP
Cantuccini Toscani is a type of biscotti, a sweet biscuit that originated in the 16th century Prato (at least according to a legend). But it got its modern look in the 19th century when enterprising Tuscan bakers started experimenting with the recipe looking to prolong the biscuit's shelf life and added almonds to the dough.
Classic Tuscan cantuccini are hard and crunchy cookies reminiscent of bread slices (Cantellus in Latin). They're made with wheat flour, eggs, butter, and sugar, with whole unblanched sweet almonds mixed into the dough.
Gorgonzola is likely the most famous blue cheese variety in the world, after French Roquefort. Its origins have been traced to the 11th-century Milanese town of Gorgonzola (the claim is disputed). It's produced in multiple municipalities of the Piedmont and Lombardy regions.
Gorgonzola cheese is made with whole pasteurized cow milk. Interestingly, it's made with Penicillium Glaucum fungus instead of Penicillium Roqueforti, like most blue cheese varieties.
There are two types:
- Gorgonzola Dolce, a soft variety with a creamy texture and mild, buttery flavor;
- Gorgonzola Piccante, a hard variety with a crumbly texture and rich, intense flavor.
Taleggio is a type of washed-rind and smear-ripened soft Italian cheese made with whole cow milk. It's primarily a Lombardy region specialty (until the late 1800s, it was made only in Val Taleggio) but is also produced in parts of Veneto and Piedmont regions.
Taleggio cheese is covered with a thin, coarse crust and has a smooth, creamy paste that's softer on the outer side, closer to the rind, and gets denser and firmer towards the center.
The flavor is mellow, fruity, and nutty, with noticeable creamy and buttery notes and a somewhat tart aftertaste. In contrast, its aroma is very robust, almost pungent.
We started with one iconic cheese, and it's only fair we finish with one: Asiago is a hard Italian cheese made with cow's milk (either whole or a mix of whole and skimmed). It was granted protected designation in 1996, establishing that authentic Asiago cheese can only be made in Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige regions (Asiago Plateau).
Young Asiago cheese has an elastic and firm texture that becomes compact and granular as the cheese ages. Its flavor also changes with age and goes from mellow, sweet, and buttery to nutty and yeasty.
Depending on the Asiago cheese type (Pressato, Mezzano, Vecchio, Stravecchio), the aging period can last as little as just 20 to over 18 months, with significant changes to both taste and texture.
Visit Yummy Bazaar's Online Italian Grocery Store for More:
We host one of the largest collections of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, Pasta di Gragnano, San Marzano tomatoes, and other gourmet-quality Italian products with protected designation at our online Italian grocery store. Simply spare a few minutes to explore the assortment, and add your favorites to the cart. Yummy Bazaar will ensure it gets delivered right to your doorstep ASAP.