Mamma Mia, The Italians Can’t Seem To Agree On Anything

"Branded" Italian products: Parmesan cheese, possible logo, red-leaf chicory

Ronald Holden

“Branded” Italian products: Parmesan cheese, possible logo, red-leaf chicory

The president of the European Central Bank (Mario Draghi) is an Italian, the director-general of the mammoth Hadron supercollider project (Fabiola Gianotti) is an Italian physicist (and a woman, no less), but the country that produced them, and that gave us pasta and prosciutto as well, apparently cannot agree on what it means to be “genuinely Italian.”

The trouble is that over $65 billion a year worth of food and manufactured products labelled as “Italian” are not really Italian, according to estimates from an international marketing firm, Brand Finance. If consumers were to switch, instead, to the real thing, it’s argued, the revenue would help small Italian businesses.

Reuters reports that the ministry in charge of the “Made in Italy” project is “doing technical checks” and that “We will launch it only if it fully meets the requests of producers.” In other words, it looks dead.

The project was announced at the end of last year, in response to industry complaints that foreign-made foods masquerading as Italian were costing the country billions in lost export sales. So the notion of a “Made in Italy” campaign was born.

But what does that mean? Food producers source their materials from a lot of places; should every single raw ingredient be made in Italy?

There are rules and regulations for a raft of foods produced in Italy. Prosecco wine, for example, must come from delimited regions of northern Italy, and be made exclusively from glera grapes. But wine, you might say, is different. Consumers expect wine to be truthful about its origins.

Parmigiano cheese, too, has a strict set of rules.

“If we open the door to products with foreign ingredients, we are not talking of real Made in Italy,” said Riccardo Deserti, chairman of the consortium of Parmigiano-Reggiano producers, which already has very strict controls for its cheese. “This is not the kind of help we are looking for.”

Even the humble radicchio di Treviso (red leaf chicory) has a production protocol written by the official growers association (Consorzio Tutela Radicchio Rosso di Treviso) to designate the townships from which it can originate, specify its growing conditions and yields, and defend its good name. (It works out to 7 tons per hectare, at about 13 ounces per plant, or 7,500 head per acre.)

The sticking point may be something as mundane as pasta. Barilla, the number one brand of Italian pasta, is manufactured in 30 plants around the world, including 16 countries outside of Italy.

And what of Eataly, the supermarket dedicated to all things Italian?

“I totally agree with the idea of a Made in Italy sign,” Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti told Reuters at the inauguration of the store, but did not say whether he sided with the Italian-made purists or the likes of Barilla.

 Ronald Holden is a Seattle-based food writer. His latest book is Forking Seattle.
Please follow and like us:

Saint Louis

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial