My enthusiasm for the European protected food names schemes has been waning for years. Initially I welcomed them as protection for artisans, farmers and growers. If they could avail themselves of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), or a TSG (Traditional Speciality Guaranteed) status, good on them. Anyone who keeps the flame of pre-industrial food and drink burning gets my vote.
I tried not to become cynical when big business started muscling in. A PGI went early on to Scottish farmed salmon, for instance, that famously Norwegian, and to my mind ecologically ruinous, aquaculture business that has decimated wild salmon. It just doesn’t belong in the same ranks as Fenland celery, Whitstable oysters or Orkney lamb.
Then earlier this year I thought I’d seen the ultimate takeover of the protected name concept when Bramley apple pie filling got a TSG list. How my heart sinks when I see that an “apple” pie has this stuff in, that cloying gloop with firm bits marooned in it. It’s a sad apology for an apple filling. The European Commission defines it “as a blend of fresh Bramley apple pieces, sugar and water, with the option of Bramley apple purée, cornflour and lemon juice”. What’s fresh about a long-life pie filling, and what’s water doing in any apple pie?
“Scottish salmon doesn’t belong in the same ranks as Fenland celery”
The latest nonsense is the case of Stilton, which has a PDO. The only cheesemakers who produce it to the authentic 300-year-old recipe, with raw (unpasteurised) milk, are not allowed to call it by that hallowed name, and have been forced to call their cheese Stichelton. They asked Defra to change the wording of the Stilton PDO to allow it to be made with raw milk, as it always used to be. What happened? Six big dairy companies (known as the Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association) opposed it, and in October Defra rejected the request.
So there we have it. Authentic Stilton can’t call itself by that name, while “Stilton”, even with added blueberries, mango, ginger, or apricots - a fabricated industrial product that makes Britain the laughing stock of the European cheese world - gets to exploit the PDO. I’d laugh, if it wasn’t so tragic.
Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of Swallow This