Just because the food looks Italian, doesn’t mean it came from Italy

by Samantha Bacchus McLeod

Global campaign to showcase the true taste and tradition of Italy comes to Vancouver

The days of self-isolation and social distancing triggered by the COVID-19 crisis has had many of us spending more time in our kitchens, dusting off old family recipes and honing our culinary skills. It has also given us an opportunity to take a deeper look at the origins and sustainability of our food.

The growing interest in how we feed ourselves, paired with the ability to make everyday meals more refined, has led Canadians to seek out elevated dining experiences — both when dining out and cooking at home — says Restaurants Canada.

“More and more Canadians are looking for authentic food products with PDO and PGI labels that are made according to traditional methods in specific geographic regions, like Italy, in Europe,” said Alex Martyniak, director of trade promotion at the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada–West (ICCBC).

PDO, short for Protected Designation of Origin, and PGI, Protected Geographical Indication, are part of the European Union’s Geographical Indications (GIs) certification system that helps consumers, retailers and chefs to distinguish between authentic European products and their many imitators, explained Martyniak. “Supermarket shelves in North America have many products evoking Italy but with no connection to Italy, nor involve an Italian manufacturer,” he said.

To educate Canadian consumers and hospitality industry professionals about the characteristics of authentic made in Italy agri-food products, Martyniak and his team at the ICCBC are part of a global program financed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation called “The Extraordinary Italian Taste,” which aims to strengthen and safeguard the presence of authentic Italian quality products in the western Canadian market.

Prosciutto do Parma, Authenticity seals, Chef Roberto Fracchioni

As part of the program, celebrity chef and social influencer Roberto Fracchioni was in Vancouver this week to showcase the provenance, superior quality and premium taste of Prosciutto di Parma DOP. Chef Fracchioni told attendees at the sold-out event that Prosciutto di Parma is aged a minimum of 400 days, cured only with pure sea salt, is 100 per cent natural and free of nitrites/nitrates and additives. It can only be produced in Italy, in the hills around Parma where the aromatic breezes from the Apennine Mountains create the perfect conditions for the natural curing of the hams.

The Prosciutto di Parma Ambassador in Canada said people are eager to discover new, higher-end flavours and traditional premium products imported from their countries of origin. “Products featuring the PDO or PGI (DOP or IGP in Italian) seal offer exactly that,” he said, adding Canada is one of the largest importers of Prosciutto di Parma in the world.

Another product that harkens to authentic Italian cuisine is Parmigiano-Reggiano, a cooked and unpressed hard cheese, known as the “king of cheeses.” “Some of the stuff sold here as parmesan has nothing to do with its Italian roots or is made there in Italy,” said Martyniak. Parmigiano-Reggiano’s PDO is made from the unadulterated raw milk of cows raised only in Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena, Mantua and Bologna.

“If it comes from elsewhere it’s not Parmigiano-Reggiano,” said Martyniak. “Just because the food looks Italian, doesn’t mean it is Italian.”

Canadians are increasingly opting for the real cheese from Italy rather than generic parmesan, which often comes in pre-grated packaging.

According to data from the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium in Italy, 2020 was a banner year: 3.94 million wheels (roughly 160,000 tonnes) were produced — the most in the cheese’s 900-year history. Of the G8 countries, Canada showed the biggest growth in imports, thanks to doubling the cheese import quota under CETA by ordering up roughly 77,000 wheels (3,087 tonnes) of Parmigiano-Reggiano in 2020.

Canada is Italy’s fifth largest export market for the cheese, according to the consortium.

To find out if you are getting the true taste and tradition of Italy with your cheeses, olive oil, hams or pasta, check out Made in Italy and taste.iccbc.com or use hashtags #iffoodcouldtalk#trueitaliantaste or #extraordinaryitaliantaste.

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