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Articles by: Louis Coluccio

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Made in Italy: How to Protect Authenticity. Interview with Donatella Iaricci, Head of the Intellectual Property Rights Desk

    1. What made the Government decide to use the PDO and PGI seals and why they were important to Italian products?
    To answer to the first part of your question the Italian legislation on PDO&PGI products and logos complies with the European Union law on PDO&PGI designation. Within the European Union there are specific European Community (EC) Regulations that provide protection for geographical indications, which shall be binding in their entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.

    The seals are important to Italian product because labeling an Italian product as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), through the corresponding symbols, meets two European requirements: first, it helps to enhance the value of the product' intrinsic properties, considered unrepeatable and inimitable; second, it offers a certification of authenticity of Italian products helping consumers to better distinguish them from any imitation.

    PDO and PGI designations refer to products of excellence that express a close tie to the territory of origin. Indeed, the products are manufactured according to rigorous workmanship criteria to guarantee product's quality consumer' safety and respect for the environment. They are named after the geographical places of origin of the products themselves. These products can not be imitated elsewhere and only the owners can use these designations.

    2. What year did the quality Seal (PGI and PDO) first appear on Italian products?
    The seal for PDO and PGl products were introduced in 2006 but the symbols were identical in terms of shape, color and design for the two protected categories. In order to enable consumers to distinguish between them, the EC Regulation No. 628/2008 introduced two different colors for the Community symbols to apply on the label or packaging of products whose names are registered either as a DOP or a PGI. The new color requirement: golden-red for DOP and golden-blue for PGI, is enforceable since May 1, 2010. The regulation is directly applicable in all Member State and the seals are compulsory for all the producers.

    3. Should consumers assume that products with the seal are of a better quality than those without?
    There are many Italian products whose quality is excellent even if they are not recognized as PDO and PGI. However, the Geographical Indications System offers a guarantee of the product quality, providing consumers with a consistent and credible form of purchasing information about the product's authenticity.

    4. How long is the process from inspection to codification generally speaking?

    The application for registration follows two procedures, enforced at regional, national and European level: it takes more than one year.
    Only a "group" shall be entitled to apply for registration, whereas a "group" means any association of producers or processors working with the same agricultural product or foodstuff, including other interested parties.
    In Italy, any application for registration and related shall be addressed contextually to the Ministry for Agriculture Politics (Ministero delle Politiche Agricole) and to the concerned Regions, in order to verify compliance with the provisions of PDO and PGI product specification.
    The Ministry shall scrutinize by appropriate means the application received to check its admissibility, if it is justified and meets the conditions laid down in the EC Regulation. The Ministry scrutiny, after receiving the Region’s favorable decision, should not exceed a period of 240 days to certify:

    the legitimacy of the applicant group;
    the completeness of documents presented, to set out the required specifications, which are: the name, a description of the product, a description of the link between the specific quality, the reputation or other characteristics of the agricultural product or foodstuff and the geographical territory, including the specific elements of the 25years-old production method;
    the adequacy to the provisions of the product specification;
    that the product doesn’t exist in a geographical area or a in a proximity geographical area where another product, renown for the same characteristics, is produced.

    After technical verifications and if the competent authority considers that the requirements to obtain the registration are met, it takes a favorable decision and publish the application on the Official Journal of Italy, ensuring 30 days within which any natural or legal person having a legitimate interest may lodge objection to the application.
    If Italy takes a favorable decision, it submits it to the European Commission for a final decision.
    This scrutiny should not exceed a period of 12 months. Where, the Commission considers that the conditions laid down in this Regulation are met, it shall publish in the Official Journal of the European Union

    Once registered, the juridical effects of the designations enter into force: only the producers from the geographical area, complying with the EU standards, have the exclusive right to use the appropriate Community symbols or indications on the packaging barring any other third party from inappropriate use, imitation, usurpation and/or misleading allusion to the protected Italian products.

    5. Beside looking for these seals, what other advice can you offer to consumers looking for authentic Made in Italy products?
    One of the advices is to consumers: pay attention at labels on the products, since they should state "Product of Italy" instead of "Italian style", or other expressions that recall the 'Italianity". It's important if the label and the packaging display the symbol, which are red for PDO and blue for PGI products.

    On the institutional side, it’s important to foster the protection of Italian Geographical Indications among American consumers throughout educational campaigns. In this regard, the Ministry of Economic Development has created a network of Desks, predominantly located at the Italian Trade Commission and/or Embassies offices, in countries where a stronger protection of Made in Italy goods in necessary. The New York IPR Desk produces legal analysis on the “Italian Sounding” Phenomenon in vogue in the United States, and promoted activities aimed at informing American consumers about it.

    6. When will organic products receive a unified code or seal?
    Organic products have been recently regulated by EU Commission via Commission Regulation (EU) n. 271/2010 of 24 March 2010.
    The Article 57 of Commission Regulation No. 889/2008 sets up the EU organic logo specifications. The EU organic logo is compulsory since July 1st, 2010.
    Two well-known symbols form the basis of the EU Organic Logo: the European flag – official symbol of the European Union since 1986 – and a leaf that is used in a variety of shapes to symbolize nature and sustainability.

    7. Authenticity of Italian products has become an important topic of debate. What is the stance of your office concerning products made in America?
    There are many food products, made in the USA, that use Italian words or recall name and colors of the Italian PDO and PGI products. This gives birth to the so-called "Italian Sounding" phenomenon, as named by the Italians; what is seen as "unfair competition” for Europe is a legal practice in the United States, which is creating a huge economic damage to Italian companies and consortia conforming to PDO and PGI specifications!

    This trend, however, can mislead and confuse American consumers, whereas it should become clear that "Parmesan" is not the Italian "Parmigiano Reggiano".
    In this scenario, the IPR Desk role is to assist Italian companies in protecting their trademark as well as monitoring the counterfeiting phenomenon in order to elaborate the best measures to defend Made in Italy products in the United States. It is hoped that there would be a modification of the international legal framework, or the signature of a bilateral agreement between EU and USA, including the extension of the same protection accorded to wines, as under Article 23 of the TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement, to food products. In short, this modification to the actual system of the TRIPs would prevent the use of expressions such as "Italian Style, Italian recipe, Italian tradition" that can easily mislead American consumers.

    Special thanks to the IPR Desk-New York for their assistance with this interview. For more information please visit the website of the Italian Trade Commission
     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    In the End, the Best of The Specialty Food Industry





    Every June gourmands descend upon the Jacob Javits Center in anticipation for one of the largest specialty food shows in the country. The Summer Fancy Food Show showcases all that is new in the specialty food industry. According to NASFT some 24,000 buyers, importers, retailers, press, and enthusiast walked the crowded isles of the Javits Center. There were a few dominating categories at the international festival including; gluten free, fiber enriched, zero calorie, and the always reliable organic and local products.


    At the Italian pavilion I tasted a panettone from the boutique producer Fiasconaro (in the case of full disclosure D. Coluccio and Sons imports and distributes this brand). I have tasted this panettone many times before, but the product they were sampling at the Show was one of the best I have ever had. It was impossible soft, but with body. The representative from the company smeared a pistachio cream, made with the famous Sicilian Bronte pistachios, over the cake that proved to be a perfect compliment.

     

    The panettone will be sold with a jar of this delicate cream in a special gift box that he showed us in their Christmas 2010 catalog. It was hard to imagine Christmas in June, especially with the sweltering New York weather, but one bite of this cake transported me to the snow and sleet of December in New York.

    Parmacotto, a famous Italian brand was on hand slicing genuine Italian salumi for eager onlookers to taste. I happen to be a fan of this company not only for their superior products, but also for the heritage they represent. It is a family owned and operated company, and I was fortunate enough to meet the young siblings who were ushering the company into the next generation. Alessandro and his sister Stefania are wonderful and grounded individuals with Italian roots, but such an obvious appreciation for American culture and especially New York City.

     

    Equally impressive was the Berkel prosciutto slicer they were using to carve thin strips of perfectly pink prosciutto. The Berkel is considered the Rolls Royce of prosciutto slicing machines, and worth its hefty price tag. In perfect succession, I discover beauty and the beverage at the Rocchetta booth, as Italy’s number one brand of sparkling water had Miss Italia on hand meeting and greeting thirsty fans. I wasn’t sure if it was the several slices of salumi I had tasted, or Miss Italia, but the Rochetta booth was a welcomed sight.

     

    The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium made its grand return to Fancy Food, with three massive wheels of cheese perched on stands open for tasting. The representative handed out frisbees which read “Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, Beyond Grate!” a witty play with words. Inside the frisbee was a disk that broke down the different aromas, looks, and textures of their 18, 22, and 30 month aging. Delicious and informative, this was certainly a triumphant return for the king of Italian cheese.


    I tasted a simple Sicilian cookie that had no added fiber, was hardly gluten free, but nevertheless was delicious. It was a dry biscotti made with lard, a pigs fat, locale almonds, and a healthy dose of coarsely ground black pepper. This is a Sicilian specialty which made for the perfect balance between savory and sweet.  


    At the American pavilion there were plenty of gluten free products, even in the form of a pizza crust, an interesting alternative if only one had no option. Prepared products were also plentiful. I tasted a meatball made with a premeasured dry mixture, which tasted fine, but I couldn’t help but wonder if 4C had been doing this for years? There were also plenty of jarred tomato sauces to taste, made for those of us who have the hopes of eating gourmet, when time is nowhere to be found.


    After hours of tasting, hand shaking, and offering encouraging words to eager producers, who spent so much of their time and money with the hopes of securing distribution or sales, my senses were overwhelmed. The producers all shared a passion and enthusiasm for their products; this was evident in their presentations and knowledge of the products they represented. After all there were 2,500 exhibitors from 81 countries, so face time with industry and consumers was limited to a few quick words.


    Days later I thought of all the interesting people I had met as I searched through my pile of business cards, pamphlets and brouchers, and with my frisbee aside I went to the NASFT website in search for something I may have missed. I discovered that attendance was up 4% from last year, a sign of renewed enthusiasm for the food industry one can only hope.


    In the end, the industry provided the greatest showmanship to its most important audience. According to the NASFT website, some 150,000 lbs of delicacies were donated to City Harvest. They estimated that this would be enough food to fill eight tracker trailers. At an event built on so many grand gestures and distinguished guest it was this alone that reassured me that sometimes the simplest of acts can yield the greatest of results.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    With a Heaping of Passion, a Means to Authenticity?

    Recently the authenticity of Italian cuisine in America has come under fire, as many industry professionals believe the cuisine has been hijacked by food media, chefs, journalist, and amateur cooks. Some feel that Italian cuisine is being misrepresented and the general public lacks a clear understanding about the products and the techniques used in authentic Italian cooking. Though the question of what is truly authentic has yet to be defined. Italy is made up of twenty regions, each with its own unique and joyous personality. Further is the idea of codifying Italian cuisine something Italian Americans care more about than Italians abroad? What role do the ingredients play when dealing with authenticity?
                   
    Certainly there are common threads throughout Italy, but thankfully none of its regions cuisines are identical. Ingredients differ, techniques vary, and recipes are passed down verbally from generation to generation, leaving room for interpretation and the inevitable evolution of the cuisine.

    My family’s business was founded on the principal of importing, marketing and retailing made in Italy products, so I believe strongly in the usage, education, and distribution of authentic Italian ingredients. Thankfully availability for genuine products such as Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto Di Parma has increased.  Few dispute that such products are the foundation of the cuisine. Some arguments are made that locally grown and sourced products are just as good, and at times better. But that is a matter of taste.

     Though in the past, when some of these ingredients weren’t as widely available as they are today, Italian Americans honed their spirit of ingenuity and improvised with what they had available. Pizza is a prime example of a Neapolitan food that was Americanized to find many failures, but also some great successes. The combination of Italian passion and American ingenuity has made for some flawed but oftentimes fantastic authentic Italian American dishes.
     

    In order to better understand this issue of authenticity perhaps we should focus less on the ingredients and techniques and more on the purpose. After all isn’t the soul of Italian cuisine rooted in the passion of its chefs, ambassadors, and enthusiast? I think all parties can agree that this passion is something all the regions of Italy proudly share.
                   
      Perhaps this passion for Italian culture is arguably the most important and authentic ingredient of the cuisine. American chefs throughout the country are creating as well as recreating wonderful and unique dishes that bring to the plate an enthusiasm that is distinctively Italian. They may not be text book cases, but isn’t that the point?  

    It is inspiring to see so many amateur cooks across the country with an appetite for all things Italian; they are stocking up on dried pastas from Grangano, filling their pantries with Sicilian tunas packed in extra virgin olive oil, and gathering in the kitchen, united through cucina Italian. Culinary classes are selling out across the country to great success in order to teach us how to make pizza at home (Pizza a Casa), prepare a tasteful charcuterie board (Astor Center), or make the perfect espresso (Illy). Culinary tours, both domestic and international (Scotts Pizza Tour, Love of Pizza Tour) are widely popular. Even a recent article in the New York Times talked about the growing popularity of culinary classes for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Authentic, hard to say, But the passion is real and the spirit is genuine.
                   
     As an amateur cook I find Italian cookery to be such a powerful and inspiring cuisine because of its accessibility. I now realize as a young boy gathering around my grandmothers table that dinner wasn’t really about the foods we ate. The food was there to unite us, so that we could share our hopes, dreams, and lives. To me this is authentic Italian.

    The ingredients may be Italian, Italian style, or something in-between, but the passion that is uniting us is most definitely authentic Italian. Because in the end isn’t the most important ingredient of cucina Italian the love of the shared table?
                   
    The authenticity of a cuisine should be defined by its people. The ingredients are the tools, but without the overwhelming passion of all the chefs (Italian or otherwise), restaurateurs, journalist, media outlets, grandmothers, eager amateurs, and yes even bloggers, where would Italian cuisine be?

    Only in Italy I suppose, and what fun would that be?