Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's In A Name: Food Roots Program To Promote Local Food Movement

Food Roots What Is it?

Recently, I have been hearing more and more about "Local" initiatives from the very basic "Farm Fresh" and "Buy Local" movements to more National and International movements propounding the virtues of " Local Foods and Local Products Go Together" such as the one that co-founder of Inniskillin Winery and now Chairperson of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Mr. Donald Ziraldo spearheads (see my blog for September 8, 2008 aptly titled "Support the Local Food Economy). The Food Roots Program goes just one step further. It wants to retain the Identity of food products by protecting their geographic and historical heritage!

On December 10th I was one of many who were invited to attend the North American debut of International Project called "Food Roots: European Geographical Indication" given by the Italian Trade Commission.

How Did It Begin?

The concept of "protecting the name" has been around for ages. It existed from the many villages in Italy and other countries in Europe as to which village made the best bread or grew the best crops or who made the best wine and so on! Pride, regional pride, existed on a common ground since every village or region would guard its "secrets" well---though in many cases it was simply the locale, habits or even the tools that made the difference. Donald Ziraldo would regard this as an extension of the term, well used in France called "Terroir"!

However as the making of goods---especially wine---became more complex and demand increased, other factors began to intrude on what was a common, healthy and simple rivalry. For example: Wine Agents or Negotiants came into being (rather early, I might add) and basically bought the wine from their area and blended it---eventually selling it as the wine from a specific locale such as Bordeaux. The wine may have come from the actual region but depending on the Negotiant's whim, it may have been blended with wines from anywhere. There were no rules though the integrity of the agent was held in question. The fact is that the regional wineries had no control over the product even though their Chateau or winery was highly regarded.

In comes Baron Phillipe De Rothschild, bon vivant, vehicle racer, risk taker and fierce competitor. His Chateau Mouton was the best of the Second Growths just below the top four wineries in Bordeaux---the best of the best at that time. He wanted a) to make his Chateau a First Growth and b) control its quality completely. He did this by demanding that all the wine be made and bottled at the chateau. This way no one could interfere with its quality and no one would question it. This started a trend that has almost all Chateau in Bordeaux and most prime properties in France bottle their own---many using only their own vineyards.

Chateuneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhone and the Appellation Controlee.

In the late 1930's (1937) Baron Le Roy, a winemaker and lawyer obtained legal recognition of the "Cotes Du Rhone" region making it illegal to produce wine bearing such a name that does not qualify or fit the standards of the Geographical Indications of what became known as Appellation d'Origine Controllee.

Other countries followed suit and developed their own methods such as Italy's Denomanazione d'Origine Controlata (later with the Denomanazione d'Origine Controlata e Guarantita). The AOC as it became known began to be utilized with other products such as cheese, vegetables and even chickens (1957).

Champagne/Burgundy As Brand Names

The name "Champagne" as it refers to sparkling wine from the district of Champagne has been protected in Europe since the Treaty Of Madrid in 1891 and further ratified by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. However, in other countries, namely North America, the term Champagne and even other districts such as those of Burgundy were used on wine labels whose bottles contained mere copies (and usually poor ones at that) with no relation either geographic, historical and style of their namesakes. It took a great deal of legal deliberation to resolve the problem. However more so than legality, extensive education of both the public and wineries has been responsible for the rise of more accurate labeling reflecting local names and varietals used.

Australia, Canada, Chile, All of Europe and the United States have signed agreements stating that the use of the name Champagne is limited to that of products made in that district.

While there are only a minimum of agreements signed limiting the use of district terms (i.e. Chianti) for other wines from other countries, it seems that most producers are now following the same path and using either varietal names and other generic terms with village or district names coming from those areas that so named. Thus, a Chianti comes from Tuscany; a Barolo from Piedmont; A Vosne Romanee from Burgundy and a Bordeaux from Bordeaux. The Geographical Indication is coming well into place.

Food Roots: "The Problem"

The wine dilemma is now relatively well in hand however, it has been a very, very long and expensive fight by the growers and producers to get this far. For the most part, they have won the major battle. When it comes to food and Geographical Indication there is much to be done. In fact the battle has just started. This is not a local food issue in as much as being an attitudinal and educational issue.

If we can go back in time to----let's say the turn of the last century. From 1890 to 1900 close to 700,000 Italian immigrants came to the United States. Italian immigrants were trickling to North America since the very early 1800's. It is said that one of them was a very close friend to Thomas Jefferson. By 1978 some 6,000,000 Italians had immigrated to the United States alone.

These people came from all walks of life: Doctors, lawyers, bakers, butchers, winemakers, cheese makers and labourers to name a few occupations. Those who had skills opened up their own stores and began making products that were reminiscent to back home. It was not quite the same---made with similar but different materials, grown in a new land. No doubt they tried to emulate but things were different.

I remember when at the age of four I immigrated to Canada with my mother. I arrived from my home country of Malta to find a harsh winter and bread that did not taste like the bread I was used to. It wasn't until the late 70's that anything ever came close (between you and me, it still doesn't).

Though the food was made with slightly different to different foodstuffs, the final product named after its Italian counterpart. Let's divert a bit and look at some examples. Let's take a very common and well loved "Italian Cheese" Mozzarella. This cheese was initially made in Naples, Italy from the milk of Water Buffaloes. The most highly regarded cheese is made in Battipaglia and Caserta where traditional Mozzarella is made. Though some Mozzarella is made via milk the process is much different than the mozzarella that one buys everyday from the grocery shelves. What we eat and think is mozzarella is not the real thing.
Another is example is the very common Italian food term Prosciutto (Italian for ham). What will you have says the waiter---Prosciutto is the answer. Seemingly simple, the term is much more complex and misused.
Prosciutto has been made in Italy for some two thousand years. Each region of Italy has its own style of prosciutto. For example: Prosciutto di Parma is made from locally raised pigs that are fed a special diet which includes local Parmigiano/Reggianno cheese whey. Other regions/types of prosciutto have slightly different ingredients i.e. Prosciutto di San Daniele uses sea salt while Prosciutto Tuscano has still other ingredients such as Juniper added. Yet they are all Prosciutto!
It seems ridiculous for any learned individual to go to the meat counter and purchase 500 grams (one lb) of "Prosciutto" made in Canada and expect to be getting the "real thing". It isn't!
The list of Italian (and other countries') products that are misnamed imitations sold in many parts of the world is long. Parmesan, Mortadella, Pepperoni, Feta cheese, Dijon Mustard, Basmati rice are but a few and even the terms Italian food, Chinese food and Japanese food can be very misleading.
The major problem is that while these "generic" names are being used indiscriminately in North America and other parts of the world, the regions that make the "real stuff" are suffering some indignation. Imagine if you will your designing an award winning product---be it a wine, food stuff, machine or whatever---and then finding a mere imitation of it made somewhat differently but going by the same name. Imagine if the Ontario Ice Wine was sold in other parts of the world as Ontario Ice Wine but made with grape juice and sugar water. Imagine if Canadian Bacon---renowned around the world was made in another country that called it "Canadian Bacon"! I think that the hue and cry would be heard across the country. Thus this indignation is legitimate and the Europeans who are quite usually ahead of other countries in this matter have introduced legislation and formulated laws to protect the names and standards of their products!
Europe as I have mentioned, has already taken steps to protect the regional standards and names of many of its products. Geographical Indications have been put into force as genuine expressions of a particular region or territory. They try to include the history, geography, culture, science and most of all, the people of that area. There are two Geographical Indications that are used as Trademark protection under European Union regulations. One is the DOP (Designation of Protected Origin) which looks at quality/characteristics of a products which are essentially or exclusively due to a particular geographical environment and the IGP (Geographical Protected Indication) which looks at products that have a particular quality, reputation and/or other factors that are geographically influenced. The major difference between the DOP and the IGP is that the IGP is given to product if one of its methods is processed within an identified area whereas the DOP must be the result of that area.
Hurdles To Maneuver
It is no doubt that many countries are using Geographical Indicators as a means of protecting the names of their products i.e. Idaho Potatoes, Ontario Beef, Prince Edward Island Potatoes, Florida Oranges etc. However, what is a Geographical Indicator in one country is a "Generic" term in another. We have discussed the Mozzarella factor already. Countries must agree to respect the names/standards/methods. What Europe has done and the work that the World Trade Organization"TRIPS is proceeding with is indeed laudable and daunting at the same time!
However as in the case of wine, there has to be more than just mere regulations.
Education and Voluntary Admissions
When Rothschild started bottling his own wine and probably, consequently, when LeRoy helped found the AOC system, not much was truly expected. In fact as recently as 1974 Chateau Kirwan, a very famous Third Growth Bordeaux vineyard was still not bottling at the Chateau. It takes time and effort to change attitudes that have formed over many years.
The biggest changer of attitudes is Education. As more people became interested in wine, they were exposed to the rules/regulations and took an interest to learn about other regions and, for example, why an area like Champagne is distinct from other areas that make sparkling wine.
So it must be that educated informed people will ask for Prosciutto di Parma from Parma not an imitation. They will question why is this called Parma if it does not originate there. they will learn to look for the IGP and DOP certificates on the food products just as they now look for the AOC, DOC, DOCG and yes, the VQA on wine bottles.
With education comes knowledge and with knowledge comes power. The regulations have to be made and counties will come on board----slowly-----as their population becomes educated about what is going on beyond their borders---beyond their shores.
Food Roots arrived in Toronto arrived in Toronto on December 10th 2008 to debut its North American Mission. I was presented by Buonitalia Spa and the Italian Association Of Geographical Indication Consortia (AICIG) in collaboration with Retecamere.
Taking part were Paolo Ponti (Italian Trade Commissioner), Walter Brunello (Chairman of Buonitalia Spa), Pier Maria Saccani (Secretary General of AICIG), Fred Kingston (Senior Advisor, Economic and Consumer Affairs, Delegation of the European Commission in Canada) and Piero Titone (ICEP)
Many thanks for the invite!