Tuscany’s DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) is the ‘protected status’ label applied to Pecorino cheese, Prosciutto ham and Chianti olive oil. The DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) labels are applied to wine, and are intrinsic to Italian heritage food and wine. In ‘Food Heroes‘, Georgia Pellegrini explores some of these traditions, including dry-curing meat:
US Food Standards v. Italian Tradition
In 2002, in the interests of food safety, Pellegrini writes that the US Department of Agriculture introduced new measures for ‘dry-aged’ products. Meats should be ‘cooked’, irradiated, or be chemically preserved. But New York charcutier, Marc Buzzio, insisted that the ancient method of air-drying meat obviated any need for such regulations. To prove his point, he asked the scientists to see for themselves. With a promise not to reveal his secret recipe, they recreated Buzzio’s process. Then they injected the meat with E.coli, thereby introducing far more bacteria than would normally have existed. When the air-drying process was complete, the scientists could find no harmful bacteria present. Marc Buzzio won, and his traditional methods survived another day.
Top Tuscan Traditions
The threat to traditional methods of production continues apace: animals are pumped full of antibiotics, meats are chlorinated. Only products that have been produced to a very high standard, and within a specific region, are awarded Tuscany’s DOP status. Like all traditional producers, Tuscany takes this status very seriously.
The world famous Chianti Classico wine is usually made from Sangiovese grapes. Our wine guide at Tenuta di Lilliano described the grape as ‘a horse that doesn’t like to be tamed’. The grapes grow within an area between Florence and Siena. They are then processed, according to strict rules, and bottled within the same area. Though other wines can achieve Tuscany DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status, only Chianti Classico can be labelled with the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster). The rooster is an historic symbol of the League of Chianti.
Only milk from sheep grazing within Tuscany can be used to create Pecorino Toscano DOP. Climate conditions and dairy traditions give the cheese a variety and flavours and aromas.
It’s essential to check the quality of the cheese at every point during production. Cheese-workers ‘paint’ the rounds of cheese with oil to aid preservation. They also hand-scoop the curds from the whey, which go on to become ricotta.
The Consorzio Tutela del Pecorino Toscano makes a Pecorino called ‘Il Fossa del Greppo’. Part of the production includes burying the cheese in a jute sack for two months! This gives it a delicious earthy flavour.
Air-cured ham goes back to Etruscan times, so the ‘puntatura’ test is relatively recent. It’s thought to have been introduced in the time of the Medicis. Olfactory experts insert a needle, made from horse bone, into the ham. The flavours of the meat are absorbed, and a ‘sniff test’ determines quality.
Only meat from pigs that were bred in Tuscany can achieve DOP status. They must also be slaughtered and processed here.
A ‘Consorzio’ (consortium) regulates and checks the processes to ensure that standards are maintained.
Where to go
The Tuscany DOP label is your guarantee that the ham, cheese or olive oil (DOCG for wine), is of the highest quality. Many producers have their own shop and, especially with wine, you may be able to take a tour. This is an excellent way of finding out more about the process, before making a purchase.
Fèlsina S.P.A. Via del Chianti 101, 53019 Castelnuovo Berardenga SI, Italy, +39 0577 152 3789, felsina.it
NB Fèlsina S.P.A. also produces high quality olive oil. However, as the groves are outside the designated region, the oil does not have Tuscany DOP status.
Tenuta di Lilliano, Località Lilliano 8, 53011 Castellina in Chianti SI, Italy, +39 0577 743070, lilliano.it
Contact: Consorzio Tutela del Pecorino Toscano DOP, pecorinotoscanodop.it
Caseificio Pienza Solp, Località Poggio Colombo 40, 53026 Pienza SI, Italy, +39 0578 748695
Contact: Consorzio del Prosciutto Toscano, www.prosciuttotoscano.com
Antica Salumeria Gozzi, Via dei Tessili snc, Zona Ind.le del Sentino, 53040 Rapolano Terme, Siena, +39 0577.704318, valtiberino.com
Contact: Olio Chianti Classico DOP, http://www.oliodopchianticlassico.com/en/