Tasting Seminar Shines Spotlight on EU Foods

NEW YORK -- The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade's (NASFT) 52nd Annual Summer Fancy Food Show was the setting for a tasting seminar intended to clear up misconceptions about some well-known European Union food products, and raise awareness of a few unsung items.

The tasting seminar, "The Familiar Giants and Undiscovered Gems of the European Union," was sponsored by European Authentic Tastes (EAT) campaign, and hosted by Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman’s, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based retailer of high-end foods.

Along with helping attendees sort out the differences among the various designations applied to EU products—such as Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which requires a product be produced in the geographical region whose name it bears, as in the case of Tuscan Olive Oil from Italy, and Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TGI), which is linked to traditional production methods rather than region, as with Serrano Ham from Spain—the seminar afforded tasters the opportunity to sample an array of top-quality products from across the EU.

While famous items included Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese from Italy and Blue Stilton and Roquefort blue cheeses from England and France, respectively, among the obscurer selections were Queijo de Azetao, a cured, runny sheeps'-milk cheese from Portugal, and Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil from Austria, which is often used in its home country to dress salads, pasta, and other dishes, and whose health benefits include an ingredient that assists in prostate health.

Weinzweig proved a knowledgeable and enthusiastic host, eager to inform attendees of "the story behind the food" and its designations, which he termed an "authentication of uniqueness." Each sample was briefly discussed by a representative either from the food's country of origin, or an importer intimately familiar with the item’s history.

An interesting point made during the event was that historical food designations shouldn’t just be confined to the EU. Dr. Franz Mitterrutzner, the representative who spoke about Speck Alto Adige Ham from northren Italy, opined that such American products as Vermont Maple Syrup should be granted a Protected Geographical Designation of Origin, which denotes foods that must be produced, processed, and prepared in a specific region using traditional production methods. "It would be an important step to internationalize the whole program," noted Mitterrutzner. "Wonderful products should be producted."
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