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docsconz

Italian Traditions

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docsconz   

Pamela,

Thanks for doing this Q&A.

Italy certainly has wonderful culinary traditions from around the country, many of which you have chronicled with expertise, sensitivity and beauty. Nevertheless, the modern world is placing a lot of pressure on theose traditions as they spread to other areas and other parts of the world and traditions from other areas creep in. This, of course, is how and why organizations like Slow Food developed. Slow Food is probably strongest in Italy, although its international presence, including the US seems to be growing. How are they faring in Italy in keeping the local traditions alive and distinct and what are some of the difficulties they face in that country?

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As you know, I am a strong supporter of Slow Food. The organization has done a lot to heighten consumer awareness and to raise the image of the artisanal producer in order that these don’t become lost arts. In the meantime, there is a huge cultural shift here. In my opinion, it isn’t so much a matter of lost arts as it is a loss of the people who want to do them. It is only natural, but as the country modernizes and becomes technologically expert, a lot of young people want to participate in that. The daughters and sons of the farmers are getting more education and heading toward different work.

There is the additional problem of industrial producers replicating an artisanal product within the European Union’s definitions. Here are some excerpts from my upcoming book (Prosciutto, Pancetta, and Salame, Ten Speed Press, 2005) that address this.

Since its creation, the EU has been working on a set of rules and regulations for traditional foods from the member countries. It has classified each product with one of two designations, DOP or IGP. Denominazioni di Origine Protetta (DOP), or Denomination of Protected Origin, specifies materials, method of production, and the zone of origin. Indicazioni Geografiche Protette (IGP), or Protected Geographic Indication, is a more general category that requires only a geographical area of origin. Depending on the product, this can be helpful, because it may protect foods from extinction. But in some cases, the definition of products that should be artisanal has been over-generalized. This vagueness has allowed industrial producers to create a facsimile that doesn’t truly replicate the traditional product.

Along with legal definitions comes politics. Large industry is often better at persuading officials about a product than a handful of artisan producers. Some artisan products have found success only to be overwhelmed by industrial copies; culatello di Zibello and lardo di Colonnata are good examples of this. Sometimes, due to demand, industry replaces the traditional practices and the artisan product completely disappears.

In the case of Lardo di Colonnata... ten years ago, there were two producers. With the fame of the product came a growth in the number of producers. Today, fourteen producers of lardo di Colonnata can provide 220,000 pounds a year. It sounds like a lot, especially considering the miniscule size of the village with its three hundred inhabitants. But it is very little compared to the nearly 20 million pounds made by industrial producers. With fame came competition and imitations. The artisanal producers have worked hard to keep the character and true tradition of this product, to the point that it has now received IGP status; the boundaries have been carefully defined to just a few hectares surrounding Colonnata, in recognition of its unique microclimate.

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