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What is DOP?

What is DOP?

Last updated on 8/31/2020

DOP, or Denominazione di Origine Protetta, is the Italian acronym for “Protected Designation of Origin”. The strictest of Italy’s geographical indication certifications, it is a legal guarantee that a product is produced, processed, and packaged entirely in a fixed geographic area and follows that region’s traditional methods for optimal quality and authenticity.

What Are Geographical Indications?

Platter of meats and cheeses

Geographical Indications (GIs) are registered names used to identify products that originate from a certain area and to protect the quality and reputation of that product and area. Products registered as GIs are legally protected from imitation within the EU and in non-EU countries who have signed a protection agreement. The law aims to distinguish these genuine products from ‘knock-offs’ in the market that have the potential to mislead consumers and create unfair competition. Cheese, cured meat, wine, olive oil, and fruits are among the types of foods that are protected.

Why Does DOP Certification Matter?

The DOP label, created in the mid-1900s, was a direct response to the growing global popularity of Italian cuisine and low-quality imitation foods, such as parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar, that were being produced as cheaper, more readily available replicas. Regulated by Italian and EU laws, the DOP label helps protect a region’s traditions and economy as well as helps distinguish and better market their unique, quality products.

The DOP label guarantees:

  • Reliability: Products must adhere to strict production guidelines and quality testing, which ensures consistency in taste and texture for years to come and helps build consumer trust.
  • Traceability / Transparency: Products come from a geographically defined area, are made with specific ingredients, and are produced and packaged using specific, artisan methods.
  • Authenticity: Products adhere to and preserve local, historic traditions that are characteristic of a specific geographic location.

How Does a Product Get DOP Certified?

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

To earn the DOP certification label, producers must adhere to a strict set of guidelines that are set by the Italian government. Every step of production, from animal feed to product packaging, is regulated.

For example, Parmigiano-Reggiano is a DOP cheese that’s production dates back to the 12th century. It is produced using the traditional method of only rennet and milk, with the milk containing a singular bacterial activity from microbial flora that is only native to the Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Modena provinces of Italy, as well as parts of the provinces of Mantua and Bologna. This microbial flora is heavily characterized by the specific environmental factors of these regions, which is impossible to produce anywhere else in the world. The minimum maturation time for Parmigiano-Reggiano is 12 months and can be extended up to 2 years and more.

How to Tell If a Product Is DOP Certified

If a product is DOP certified, it will be clearly marked on the product’s packaging with a serial number and this red and yellow label:

Designation of Origin Certification

Some DOP cheeses will also feature identifying marks on their rinds to further distinguish their authenticity and provide immediate recognition of quality for consumers. If a product does not meet production standards, despite using the same ingredients, it will not be awarded the DOP label.

Here are a few examples of DOP cheeses and a brief look into what standards must be met in order to be certified:

  • Gorgonzola DOP: Must be produced entirely within the designated regions of Piemonte or Lombardy using cow’s milk. Its flavor profile is buttery, creamy, and slightly sweet.
  • Grana Padano DOP: Must be produced entirely within the Po River Valley area in northeastern Italy using cow’s milk. Its flavor profile is similar to but milder than Parmigiano-Reggiano’s.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP: Must be produced entirely within the Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Modena provinces in northern Italy using cow’s milk. Its flavor profile is nutty, salty, and slightly fruity/floral. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with DOP indication on rind
  • Pecorino Romano DOP: Production is only allowed on the islands of Sardinia and Lazio as well as in the Tuscan Province of Grosseto using sheep’s milk. Its flavor profile is sharp, spicy, and smoky.
  • Piave DOP: Must be entirely produced within northern Italy’s Belluno province using cow’s milk. Its flavor profile is similar to but slightly sweeter than Parmigiano-Reggiano’s.
  • Provolone Valpadana DOP: Must be produced from the milk of cows that graze in the pastures of certain provinces in the regions of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. Its flavor profile is smoky, sweet, and piquant.

In addition to cheese, there are also many other DOP products, such as salami, prosciutto, and other charcuterie meats, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Other EU Geographical Indications

The name and acronyms of Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) labels can vary according to a country's language and internal regulations. For instance, authentic Roquefort cheese bears the same red and yellow PDO certification label, but you may see it marked as AOP, or Appellation d'Origine Protégée, which is the French translation.

What is IGP?

IGP, or Indicazione Geografica Protetta, is the Italian acronym for “Protected Geographical Indication”. Less strict than DOP laws, the IGP label ensures that at least one phase of a product’s manufacturing is produced in a fixed geographic area according to that region’s traditions.

How to Tell If a Product Is IGP Certified

If a product is IGP certified, it will be clearly marked on the product’s packaging with this blue and yellow label:

IGP Certification

Here are a few examples of IGP products and a brief look into what standards must be met in order to be certified:

  • Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP: Must be produced in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia, in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. It has a balanced sweet and sour flavor.
  • Mortadella Bologna IGP: Must be produced in the area of Bologna, in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. It has a well-balanced, slightly spiced flavor and a distinctive aroma.
  • Speck Alto Adige IGP: Must be produced in the South Tyrol, or Alto Adige, region of Northern Italy. Its flavor profile is rich, deep, and smoky with hints of spice.
  • Toscano Extra Virgin Olive Oil IGP: Must be entirely produced in the region of Tuscany. It has a fruity, and slightly nutty flavor with a green to golden-yellow color.

Using DOP products in your establishment comes down to a matter of budget, customer base, and application. If you’re looking to upgrade your wine tasting room or serve high-quality foods to match your fine Italian wines, DOP products are an exceptional option for your menu. While the price tags are higher than their imitations, the DOP seal ensures you are paying for the highest quality ingredients and flavor.

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