The slow food movement is taking off all over the world. People are talking about the concept of farm to table cuisine and attempting to learn about where their food comes from. There is a growing appreciation for what goes into quality food.
In Emilia Romagna, Italy, though, they have been concerned about farm to table and quality food for decades and even generations.
DOP and IGP Products
I first learned about the Italian consortia that are responsible for maintaining quality in food products during a tour through Tuscany years ago. I learned that Chianti wines can be either a DOC or a IGP product, depending on the grapes used, the manufacturing process and the certification. All new concepts to me.
In Emilia Romagna there is a similar set of rules and regulations that govern their local food specialties. In fact, there are at least 35 DOP and IGP products in Emilia Romagna, more than any other region in Italy, and I think the world. I do not know of another country that focuses as much on certification of quality food products. The history and pride is apparent when walking through a food market in Emilia Romagna.
When we first met Helena from Yummy Italy, she proudly whipped out a map of DOP and IGP products in Emilia Romagna. Over an espresso and a morning pastry, she explained to us all of the different specialty foods that are certified in the region.
How to Qualify as DOP or IGP Products
DOP (Denominazione Origine Protetta) and IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) are the ways in which Emilia Romagna ensures quality, traditional food products. It’s one of the reasons why food in Emilia Romagna is so good.
When looking at the requirements for these DOP and IGP Products, all of the ingredients used have to come from that region. And, strict rules must be followed to ensure quality. Some of these rules differ even within the region. For example, Prosciutto di Parma will have different rules than Prosciutto di Modena, even if to the untrained eye there is no difference.
On a restaurant menu, we would see prosciutto for €6, for example. But, that might not be official DOP Prosciutto di Modena, unless it specifically says Prosciutto di Modena DOP. And it most likely will be at a higher price. On its face, it seems like a complicated process, but in the end, probably well worth it.
What are the DOP and IGP Products in Emilia Romagna?
The first product we discussed with Helena was mortadella, which she seems to be passionate about. She mostly tried to demonstrate that mortadella is so different from what we in America call bologna. In Emilia Romagna, there are specific rules on which cuts of meat can be used to make the mortadella, which is an IGP product. For example, mortadella is usually made from the flank of the pig. And the white bits inside are not bits of fat, but instead are bits of pig cheek, one of the most flavorful and tender cuts of meat. This is in obvious contrast to bologna in the US. No one asks the question of what is in their bologna, mostly because no one wants to know the answer.
The mortadella we ate in Emilia Romagna was either sliced thin or cubed. I prefer the thinly sliced mortadella, which of course tastes smooth and fresh, and is light years away from the bologna I grew up on. I would never consider frying up the mortadella, to throw on a piece of bread with some ketchup, a meal my mother and grandmother both often cooked for me. In fact, after enjoying mortadella in Emilia Romagna, I could not imagine eating a fried bologna sandwich ever again.
Mortadella, though, is just one of the many products that are pretty much certified to be good. There is Salame Cremona, Salame Piacentino and Salamini Italiani – yeah three different kinds of salami. There is Culatello, which comes from the inside of the thigh of a pig, which is aged in a very humid atmosphere, affecting the flavor. Pancetta di Piacenza is another specialty cured meat and a DOP product, as well as Zampone, a special pig’s trotter.
There is, of course, balsamic vinegar from Modena, but also balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia. The rules and regulations for what is balsamic vinegar are staggering, as are the rules for how to properly taste balsamic vinegar. There is Parmigiano Reggiano and Parmigiano Grana Padana, each with their own requirements. There are two different kinds of olive oil too.
But, Emilia Romagna is not just about balsamic vinegar, meats and cheeses. Other, and to me more surprising, DOP and IGP products include chestnuts, asparagus, nectarines, pears, mushrooms and even a kind of bread called Coppia Ferrarese. Newer designations are occurring all the time, including sour cherries, potatoes, onions and even rice. Of course, these are all particular products from a particular region, grown in a particular way.
A Passion for Food
The discussion of DOP and IGP products was entirely overwhelming. The knowledge that Helena had about each was simply amazing. And, it solidified for me why the food in Emilia Romagna is so good and of such high quality. I love the passion.
I quickly realized that our two weeks driving around Italy and touring Emilia Romagna would not be enough to understand these products and their certifications. And in the end, we did not even get to taste all of these products. We’ll need to go back I guess.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now. If you are a NOOK reader, it is also available for download on Barnes and Noble.
More About Our Trip
We were hosted by Yummy Italy for our culinary day tour of Emilia Romagna, and supported by Emilia Romagna Tourism. But my fascination with the food in Emilia Romagna, and my opinions on the food, are of course all my own.
For more about the food in Emilia Romagna, check out our Emilia Romagna Food Travel Guide.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.