The EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) schemes allow producers of distinctive regional and traditional foods to promote and protect their food and help consumers distinguish them from fakes and lookalikes. More than 40 British products have qualified and a posse of time-honoured specialities, from Craster kippers and Fenland celery to Anglesey Sea Salt and Kentish cobnuts, await approval.
Protection of our country’s distinctive, authentic foods can’t come soon enough; life is hard for the dedicated people who keep them going. I buy free-range Berkshire pork from one of the few farmers who keeps rare breeds going. He is near retirement, has no family to take over and has had a bit too much of standing around at freezing farmers’ markets. Such producers need to be cherished if we are not to lose the crown jewels in our culinary heritage.
To this end, it’s good to see the Forgotten Foods scheme, a joint initiative by Booths, the North West family-owned chain, and Slow Food UK. Booths is no stranger to supporting local foods. It isn’t nationwide, so it is nimble and operates on a human scale, which means it can work well with products available only in limited quantities. For its part, the British arm of Slow Food has taken the original Italian Slow Food concept of the ‘Ark of Taste’ (a Noah’s Ark to rescue endangered foods) and translated it into terms anyone can understand: preserving forgotten specialities and putting them back on plates.
Booths has instructed its buyers to find forgotten foods in their category and bring them to market - delights such as Lyth Valley damsons, Formby asparagus, double curd Lancashire cheese and a true York ham. Some projects require persistence. A proper black pudding made from fresh, not dried, blood requires a change in legislation prohibiting the transport of fresh blood. But there’s tenacity about the Forgotten Foods project.
Slowly but surely, one product at a time, marvellous foods that are part of our food culture are being revived. If we don’t eat them and celebrate them, we’ll lose them.