[Thoughts on the Table – 75] The Impact of Geographical Indications on the Italians, with Melinda King

Melinda King

As Melinda King puts it, Geographical Indications are a way to legally recognize quality of place, meaning: “it tastes like it tastes because it’s from this place.” In this episode, Melinda breaks down Certification of Origin in its deep “cultural, social, political, economic, and historical meanings.” Also, she further elaborates on the impact of Geographical Indications by interviewing me as an Italian 🙂

You can follow Melinda on Instagram.

Paolo Rigiroli

Author: Paolo Rigiroli

Now based in the UK, Paolo is an Italian who lived in Canada for nearly 18 years and blogs about Italian food and its many aberrations.

7 thoughts on “[Thoughts on the Table – 75] The Impact of Geographical Indications on the Italians, with Melinda King”

  1. Loved this one, Paolo! The Italian romanticism of tradition is fascinating. All my friends who have spent any time in Italy have adopted it, regardless of their disparate backgrounds. I can’t think of a more viral cultural meme anywhere. How do you feel this love of tradition is impacting the advancement of Italy’s culinary arts?

    1. Dear Jason, thank you for the fascinating response! I enjoyed having Paolo’s personal reflections on this social/political/economic topic, and am very interested in the “romantic” aspects (depending on who you speak to!) of Italian food, design, art, style, and culture. Much of it is the post-WWII “Italian Miracle” at work, which was a self-promoting ad campaign to regenerate a broken spirit an economy. But it continues on today quite strong, thanks to tourism and cinema, as well as cooking shows! Even cooking shows by non-Italians or third generation, twice removed… the ideal, linked to the GI food products, is one of nonna’s hands pounding pasta, sun-drenched lemons pressed into limoncello, artisanal cheeses, and cute farmers with tiny trucks on the roadside–not to mention the idea of sunset over an organic family vineyard in Umbria. The sweetness believes that it is innocent, and perhaps lost in a better era. The truth is that cheese comes from cows who step and sit in mess all day long. The pastas may be punched in a factory, only packaged in plastic wrap that has a sticker of a smirking little old lady. And the garnet-colored rustic country wines may be made with laboratory raised yeast that is cultivated to have “foggy” hillside qualities. Geographical Indication foods bolster the idea of Italian romantics, but that is more by way of product marketing, rather than the system itself. To qualify for the GI, the product must have a proven/documented historical tradition in the area, and this generally includes heartwarming stories that call to nostalgia and quaintness. But the economic factors of GI mean price paid for the feel-good experience. This is less “love of tradition,” as you smartly mentioned, and more playing on the exit fee. The love of tradition is in the way the foods are made, the truth of the ingredients used (just listen to Paolo speak so passionately about Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese), and those who attentively and mindfully make them. So, less on the what and more on the how, I believe, regarding tradition. Even further, I would venture to say that the beauty of Italian culture is that no one really knows what is RIGHT, but they will all joyfully and confidently argue about what is NOT RIGHT. To answer your final question, I think there are two motivations truly advancing Italy’s culinary arts: hunger and patience. They go hand in hand, but show themselves in different personal ways Hunger for delight, meaning, color, flavor, comfort, and language. Patience grows that hunger, and also helps us adequately satiate. This requires dedication to detail, timing, community, seasons, and humility. Everything is old and new, thanks to identity of the Italian appetite. In my personal opinions, Italian hunger is the ultimate expression of history and style… è l’arte di arrangiare i propri morsi di vita.

      1. “Italian Miracle” including the moka, Fiat, Nutella, reintroduction of pasta products (after Mussolini tried to run as a government wheat commodity), Fellini, and, of course, the mass immigration of Italians to North and South America. The transmission of peninsular Italian culture and food has been romanticized by second and third generation Italians, on foreign soils, as a way to connect to the idea of native taste and identity. This brings us, full circle, to the questions so brilliantly posed by Dear Paolo and yourself, Jason, in the first investigative episodes of this magnificent podcast, Thoughts on the Table… what is the tradition behind the flavor? Terra, even from far away!

      2. A beautiful reply Melinda–thank you!

        I wasn’t aware of the “self-promoting and campaign” you mentioned. There’s definitely a blog article in that I would love to read!

        I love this contrast of hunger and patience. So much better than the contrast so many of us face elsewhere between hunger and lack of time.

        Looking forward to hearing more from you and Paolo!

        1. Thank YOU, Jason. So interesting to take the gastronomic-cultural-gustatory-biological views on world history. Side thought– how fascinating it would be to set up a podcast for Paolo where he gets to interview the manager of a McDonald’s in Milano… not to mention they show two GI labels on the menu (for cheeses used). Ask this person about tradition, identity, and ingredients, let alone hunger and patience! Cheers to you—M

  2. Very insightful episode! I had recognised many of the Italian products but hadn’t considered the other countries who are getting involved.

    It would be interesting to further investigate and pinpoint those who would consciously make the decision not to go through the process. Although it was touched upon, maybe further leaning into it could help further the impact of GI?

    1. Dear Jaqueline,

      Excellent point made, those who “consciously make the decision not to go through the process…” as there are many! First of all, there is a mistrust for government regulation and oversight, as it includes massive amounts of paperwork, oversight, registrations, and compliance. Secondly, there are the expenses of being a GI recognized product–from the application and organization to the actual production (adhering to certain qualities and steps required, etc.). Then there are the annual records, analyses, analytics, marketing, and sales costs included, as well as communication and media for being “part of” the organized GI group. This is where the central consorzio steps in, and regulates the producers. So, those making the product can feel a sense of safety in numbers, but they really have to do exactly what they are told. There can be competition and poor communication between producers, and not all will feel supported or recognized equally. Joining together under the “brand name” of the food product, example for Montasio cheese, they work in order to promote the cheese type and the region more than individual farms and dairies. I interviewed a winemaker in Sicily, with a successful family winery, and he mentioned that the hardest part of his work is not making wine, but dealing with the consorzio. He stated that the DOC paid attention only to larger, more popular producers, and that his family, along with other smaller wineries, were left without funding, communication, or attention, and were poorly treated. They have to wait for approval on their work that stalls productivity, and are not included in events or even with the website. Otherwise, the decision to not participate in GI may be due to a lack of knowledge. Smaller producers do business as usual, and do not know precisely what it means to be registered, how it might affect business, or the developmental support promised. Taking the time and effort to join is not worth the energy, for many,; if a small business is already doing well with it’s maximum output, they may not have the resources or the desire to become “official.” Ultimately, the GI program is seen as something Italy is doing in order to participate in the European Union, and there is a popular sense of “Italy for the Italians” that does not click with the idea of central organization. That being said, it is early. This certification label is not a nutritional mark for packaging, but rather a philosophical one. Place is important to Italians, but the question is: do they need a regulating board to remind them what place is? Buying foods from trusted sources, one to one, is the true traditional Italian way. GIs require stores and marketing. This is the divergence of modernity, where”genuine” products will rely on campaigns rather than faces. No matter how traditional the GI Italian foods, it relies on the trust and confidence of the consumer. They are controversial because Italians do not want to lose the joy of being able to decide what they, person to person, consider authentic.

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