Tuscany’s DOP (denominazione di origine protetta) label can be applied to Pecorino cheese, Prosciutto ham and Chianti wine. The labelling is intrinsic to Italian heritage foods. In ‘Food Heroes’, Georgia Pellegrino explores some of these traditions, including dry-curing meat:
US Food Standards v. Italian Tradition
In 2002, in the interests of food safety, Pellegrino writes that the US Department of Agriculture introduced new measures for ‘dry-aged’ products. Meats should be ‘cooked’, irradiated, or have chemicals and preservatives added. 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, but took it a step further; 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’s meat products were saved, and the USDA scientists realised that traditional methods survive for a reason.
Top Tuscan Traditions
The protected designation of origin (PDO), and protected geographical indication (PGI), are important certifications. Traditional methods of production are increasingly under threat: animals are increasingly pumped full of antibiotics, while some meats are chlorinated. Tuscany’s DOP status is awarded to products that have been produced to a very high standard, and within a specific region. Like all traditional producers, Tuscany takes this status very seriously.
The world famous Chianti Classico wine is made from particular grapes, usually Sangiovese. Our wine guide at Tenuta di Lilliano described Sangiovese as ‘a horse that doesn’t like to be tamed’. The grapes are grown within an area between Florence and Siena. They must then processed, according to strict rules, and bottled within the same area. Though other wines can achieve Tuscany DOP status, only Chianti Classico can be labelled with the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster). The rooster is an historic symbol of the League of Chianti.
Pecorino Toscano PDO, soft or semi-hard, is made from the milk of sheep grazing within Tuscany. Climate conditions and dairy traditions give the cheese a variety and flavours and aromas.
The quality of the cheese is checked at every point during production. Much of the process is still done by hand, including ‘painting’ the rounds of cheese with oil, to preserve them.
The Consorzio Tutela del Pecorino Toscano produces 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. It’s thought to have been introduced in the time of the Medicis. A needle, made from horse bone, is inserted into the ham. The bone absorbs the flavours of the meat, and experts determine the ham’s quality by sniffing the needle.
Only meat from pigs that were bred in Tuscany can achieve PDO ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ 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, olive oil or 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. Products can also be purchased online.
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/