Spain introduced its first system protecting signature products in 1925, starting with the wine produced in the La Rioja region. In 1970, the authorities amended the scheme to include agricultural products.
In 1992, when the EU introduced its unified system, all products awarded protected status by the Spanish authorities were automatically granted equivalent indications on the EU territory.
What are Spanish Protected Food Designations?
There are three categories of Spanish food with protected indication:
DOP: Denominación de Origen Protegida
Denominación de Origen Protegida 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: Indicación Geográfica Protegida
Indicación Geográfica Protegida 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.
ETG: Especialidades Tradicionales Garantizadas
Especialidades Tradicionales Garantizadas or ETG 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 a Spanish STG product would be Panellets. Panellets are small cookies made primarily with marzipan. They’re most often round, but the shapes can vary. TSG status distinguishes between Panellets made from basic marzipan, coarse or standard marzipan, and fine marzipan.
The famous Osso di Santo (spn. “Saint’s Bones) are fine marzipan Panellets. Standard marzipan Panellets are the ones that come in a wide variety of shapes. And basic marzipan Panellets are commonly flavored with other ingredients like various nuts, fruits, coconut, coffee, crème pâtissière, and even marron glacés.
Top 12 Protected Spanish 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 DOP/PDO or IGP/PGI products.
The following products can only ever be produced within the borders of Spain, 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.
Queso Manchego, DOP
Manchego cheese - or Queso Manchego - is easily the most iconic among Spanish cheeses, both abroad and at home. It’s a La Mancha region specialty and can only be made in specifically allocated areas of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, and Toledo provinces.
Manchego cheese is made with whole sheep milk. The milk can be either pasteurized or raw, but it must come from Manchega breed sheep, and the sheep must be bred and raised on farms registered within the same designated areas of the four provinces.
Young Manchego cheese has a semi-soft texture that hardens as the cheese ages. It also has a rich, complex flavor with buttery, nutty, tart, and sweet undertones, with primary flavor tones changing with age.
Queso Manchego is classified into four different categories via aging: Fresco (fresh, aged about 60 days), Semicurado (semi-cured, aged around 2-4 months), Curado (fully cured, aged 3-6 months), and Viejo or Añejo (old, aged 12 to 24 months).
Cabrales Cheese, DOP
Where France has Roquefort, and Italy has Gorgonzola, Spain has Cabrales. Cabrales is a specialty of the Asturias region. Authentic Cabrales must be aged for 3-5 months in natural limestone grottos located in Asturias mountains.
What’s unique about Cabrales is that, unlike most other protected cheese varieties, it can be made with cow, goat, or sheep milk, as long as the milk must be raw and unpasteurized. It has a distinct look setting it apart from other blue cheese, as well. Its paste is darker, almost yellowish, and a dense cover of thin but close-set blue-gray veins.
Its texture is moist and creamy, and the flavor is robust, salty, and slightly spicy.
Arroz Calasparra, DOP
Calasparra is a name for rice two varieties of Oryza Sativa species: Balilla X Sollana and Bomba. It’s primarily grown in the municipalities of Calasparra and Moratalla of the Murcia region. Murcians have been growing Calasparra rice since before at least the 15th century, though some theorize it has been around for much longer.
Balilla X Sollana rice variety is usually labeled as just Arroz Calasparra, while the Bomba variety is labeled Bomba Calasparra or just Bomba. The rice is cultivated without pesticides or herbicides, and it’s prohibited to use chemicals of any kind during processing.
Calasparra rice is white, short-grain rice with high amylose content. The high amylose content allows Calasparra rice to absorb more liquid without becoming sticky or mushy. Bomba variety can absorb more liquid and grows in size when cooked, which is where it gets the name from.
Calasparra rice is considered the best base for authentic Spanish paella, as its absorptive qualities allow the rice grains to caramelize and become crispy instead of creamy.
Jamón Ibérico de Guijuelo, DOP
While jamón Ibérico itself isn’t under the protected designation, several of its varieties are, including Jamón de Guijuelo, a Salamanca province specialty, and the first jamón Ibérico variety to earn the honor in 1986.
Jamón de Guijuelo is made from Iberian pork with at least 75% Iberian ancestry. It comes under three different seals: black for 100% Iberian ancestry pigs kept on an acorn diet, red for 100% Iberian ancestry pigs kept on an acorn diet, and green for either 100% or 75% Iberian ancestry pigs on natural range feed diet.
Jamón de Guijuelo is cured for at least 18 months. It’s supposed to be dark pink, with even white marbling, with a chewy but tender texture. Authentic Jamón de Guijuelo has a beautifully complex flavor with an excellent balance of sweet and savory notes and delicate nutty and woody undertones.
Salchichon de Vic, IGP
Salchichon de Vic, also called Llonganissa de Vic, is produced in only 28 towns, all of them located in the Vic Valley (Osona district, Barcelona province).
Salchichon is a Spanish pork sausage made specifically selected cuts of meat, a careful balance between more fatty cuts and lean meat to achieve its signature texture: chewy but smooth and slightly creamy. The pork used in Salchichon de Vic can come only from pigs of either Berkshire, Large White, or Duroc breeds, raised in the area according to specific guidelines. The meat selection ensures Salchichon de Vic gets the signature robust, intensely meaty flavor and aroma.
Vinagre de Jerez, DOP
Vinagre de Jerez, or Spanish Sherry Vinegar, is an Andalusian specialty made in provinces of in the provinces of Cádiz, Lebrija, and Seville. The wines used for Sherry Vinegar productions can only come from Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Muscatel grape varieties.
To make Sherry Vinegar, the wines are fermented in oak barrels using a solera system (blending liquids of different ages). Depending on how long it’s been aged, sherry vinegar comes in three types:
- Vinagre de Jerez, aged at least six months;
- Vinagre de Jerez Reserva, aged at least two years;
- Vinagre de Jerez Gran Reserva, aged at least ten years.
Siurana Extra Virgin Olive Oil, DOP
Siurana extra virgin olive oil is made exclusively in the province of Tarragona. Only Arbequina, Royal, and Morrut olive varieties can be used for production. What’s more only olives harvested by hand are used.
Siurana extra virgin olive oil is made through cold pressing. The olives are pressed within 24 hours after being harvested.
Depending on the time of harvest, Siurana extra virgin olive oil can be either fruity, full-bodied, with a greenish color and almondy aroma (early harvest), or pleasantly sweet, with yellow color and a fragrant floral aroma.
Espárrago Blanco de Navarra, PGI
Espárrago de Navarra is white asparagus grown exclusively in what’s known as River Ebro Valley (Valle Medio del Ebro). The Valley covers 263 municipalities in the Autonomous Communities of Navarra, Aragon, and La Rioja. It’s grown without receiving direct light, allowing the plant to maintain its signature pale color.
White asparagus from Navarra is prized for its special soft yet crunchy texture and nutty flavor. It’s a seasonal product that’s harvested from March to June. But the protected indication covers not only fresh asparagus but conserved (packed in tins or glass pots) as well, so the product is available year-round.
Pimentón de la Vera, DOP
Pimentón de la Vera is a smoked paprika powder made with peppers in the Ocales group. It’s been produced in the La Vera valley (Cáceres province) since the 16th century.
Pimentón de la Vera comes in three varieties:
- Pimentón Dulce, a mild and sweet smoked paprika mainly used with light meats (seafood and poultry);
- Pimentón Agridulce, a medium-hot smoked paprika that’s considered somewhat of a universal option;
- Pimentón Piccante, hot smoked paprika used with red meat, and hearty dishes like soups and stews.
Pimentón de la Vera is one of the main ingredients in chorizo sausages. Whether Dulce or Piccante is used depends on the chorizo variety.
Turron de Alicante, IGP & Turron de Jijona, IGP
Turron is a Spanish nougat confection made with honey, egg whites, sugar, and toasted nuts, typically almonds.
While there are about half a dozen turron varieties in Spain, there are two traditional ones that are particularly well-known around the world, turron de Alicante and turron de Jijona:
- Turron de Alicante, also known as Turron Duro: hard nougat from Alicant. It’s usually a white (unless flavored with chocolate) compact block containing whole roasted almonds (around 60% of overall turron mass).
- Turron de Jijona (Xixona), also known as Turron Blando: soft nougat that’s considered the oldest Spanish turron variety, with the original recipe dating to the 15th century. Almonds are turned to paste and combined with turron mix. About 64-65% of the overall mass is almonds. This turron is soft, crumbly, and often caramel-colored instead of white.
Mazapán de Toledo, IGP
Mazapán de Toledo is a type of Spanish marzipan produced in Toledo province, made only with peeled raw almonds and some kind of natural sweetener, typically either beet or cane sugar (though swapping sugar for honey or sucrose is allowed). The current production method is the same as it was during the 16th century.
For a product to qualify as Mazapán de Toledo, almonds need to constitute at least 50% of the final product mass.
Azafrán de la Mancha, DOP
Azafrán de la Mancha is a variety of saffron grown in the Autonomous Community of Castilla-La Mancha (Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real, and Albacete)
The stems of this saffron have a distinct bright red color. It has a robust aroma with bright floral notes and a long-lasting flavor that starts out bitter but grows sweet.