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Sicilian pecorino firms up Italy's quality-food lead

'Piacentinu Ennese' is 221st Italian product to win EU laurel

18 February, 16:12
Sicilian pecorino firms up Italy's quality-food lead

(ANSA) - Brussels - A sheep's cheese produced on the hillsides near Enna in Sicily has become the latest Italian product to earn a European Union quality-food laurel.

The Piacentinu Ennese, cultivated with centuries-old lore and laced with a distinctive touch of saffron, won a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) appellation, the most prestigious of the EU's three food quarantees that keep genuine articles safe from inferior pretenders.

"This is an important achievement," said Italian Agricultural Minister Giancarlo Galan, who noted that the pungent pecorino was Italy's 221st product in the EU's quality rolls, and the 1,000th the EU has given out all told, to 24 of its 27 members.

Italy's 221 quality foods - winners of a PDO, a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) or a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) - generate a turnover of some five billion euros a year, rising amid interest from new consumers in China, India, Vietnam and Thailand.

Germany is second in the turnover rankings, France third and the United Kingdom fourth, with an annual estimated turnover of some one billion euros.

In numerical terms, Italy is ahead of France and Spain. Before the Enna cheese, the most recent Italian entry was a type of chestnut native to the Val di Susa in Piedmont, the 'Marrone della Valle di Susa', which won a PGI label in November.

The nut owes its creamy-white and crunchy flesh to the special soil of the valley north of Turin, experts say, and has been a staple of the local economy since the Middle Ages.

The nut followed into the rankings a type of wheat called spelt ('farro') once used by the Romans and still cultivated in the fields around Spoleto, which earned a PDO in July.

Before the farro, entries included a traditional pastry from Siena and a potato grown around Bologna.

Siena's famed Ricciarelli biscuits, a slim lozenge-shaped dainty that morphed from an original curly creation by a Crusading knight impressed by an Arab sweetmeat, won a PGI label. The 'Patata di Bologna' won a PDO.


Italy's special foods have put in a spurt in the last year and a half.

A fragrant white celery from Sperlonga received a PGI label aimed at keeping other celeries from posing as the aromatic product from the marshlands near the ancient coastal village between Rome and Naples which have for centuries produced the unique vegetable.

The 'Mela di Valtellina' won a PGI label to guard the strongly scented, firm-fleshed apple from the sub-Alpine valley.

In January 2010 that Italian food glory, Neapolitan pizza, got a long-awaited TSG label.

In December 2009 a 'prosciutto crudo' from Cuneo claimed a PDO. It was the third product to get a PDO in less than a week, following a chestnut from the Tuscan village of Caprese Michelangelo and the Piennolo tomato from the slopes of Mt Vesuvius.

In October 2009, a traditional sour cherry jam produced near Modena, 'Amarene Brusche di Modena' was awarded a PGI, while 'Ciauscolo', a large soft spreadable sausage from the Marche region, got the same recognition in August 2009.

Other recent additions have included Sicily's 'Pagnotta del Dittaino' bread, with a PDO label; Roman suckling lamb, abbacchio romano, which earned a PGI label; and Modena's balsamic vinegar, another PGI.

Italian culinary glories like Parmigiano, buffalo mozzarella, mortadella, lardo di Colonnata, Ascoli olives, pesto sauce and Pachino plum tomatoes have been protected for some time.

Lesser-known munchies like Mt Etna prickly pears and Paestum artichokes swelled the ranks in 2009 along with two kinds of saffron, from San Gimignano and L'Aquila.

A range of salamis, rices, honeys and nuts are also on the protected list.

Several up-and-coming regional wines have earned TGIs.

PDO identifies a product whose characteristics are exclusively dependant on a geographical origin and whose productive phases all take place in the specified area.

PGI defines a product whose characteristics can be connected with its geographical origin and that has at least one productive phase located in the specified area.

TSG distinguishes a product whose raw materials, composition or recipe, production method or transformation, are of a traditional type.