Thursday, November 24, 2011

Garantito IGP: Siena's Ricciarello is IGP: But What Does it Taste Like?

This time Stefano Tesi takes the stand:

For the Sienese, and, we may as well admit it, especially for the Sienese pastry industry, 2011 will be a year to remember. Symbolic, like 1260, the year the city defeated Florence in the battle of Monteaperti.

Also because, though this time the triumph was more bureaucratic and less striking, the adversaries were in part the same. And the battle, conducted with certificates and reports, was every bit as violent. I'm talking about the so-called "Ricciarello War," an engagement that began in 1996 and had been hard-fought in Florence, Rome and Brussles, until, in 2010, the EU accepted Siena's requests and assigned the city's classic almond macaroons the long-sought-after IGP status.

It took until October 28, however, for the completion of the certification protocol, at which point it became possible to sell "Ricciarelli di Siena IGP." A product that now, with the onset of the Christmas season, will make its appearance on Italian tables. According to EEU law, from now on no sweet labeled Ricciarello di Siena can be made beyond the provincial borders, and all must be made following the rigid production code approved by the EEU.

Obviously, similar sweets made elsewhere aren't Ricciarelli, and this is a red light for the Florentines, Pratesi and Grossetani who have long made similar looking almond-scented sweets that in fact don't contain almonds. Identifying them however as the Ricciarelli, that Pellegrino Artusi called "Sienese" in recipe 629 of his famous book.

As always happens when the subject of brands and industry arises, the problem is not one of local pride. And just as obviously, the IGP battle brought together everyone on the Sienese side, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Fondazione Qualità della Provincia.

The implications go considerably beyond local economics, tourism, local identity, and one-upmanship. The Ricciarello di Siena IGP is the first Italian sweet to obtain IGP status, and a production code that requires the use of specific ingredients. And it is the first time that the name Siena has received protection in the form of geographic recognition. At present the label is being used by just four companies, but another 50 or so could adopt it, and as a result the brand's worth is already esptimated to be several million Euros. "This in an historic moment in which," notes Mauro Rosati, Qualivita's Director, "countires with ample cash reserves, such as Quatar, are investing heavily in this sector to buy protected names that they plan to release onto global markets in the future."

To guarantee the production methods, and in particular, the ingredients used, the University of Siena has gotten involved. The heart of the problem is the almonds. The traditional recipe, and therefore the IGP production code, calls for 30-50% sweet almonds, and up to 6% bitter almonds; the latter are expensive, and therefore some substituted for them with ground apricot pits, or even the de-oiled flours that are the waste product of almond oil extraction. Both substitutes give qualitatively inferior results, but it turns out that they can be detected through a DNA analysis of the oils contained in the ricciarelli, an analysis developed by researchers of the Cogep Laboratories, which are part of the University of Siena.

Everything set?

From a legal standpoint yes: Siena's Ricciarelli are certified, guaranteed, stamped, and inspected.

Unfortunately, however, from a qualitative standpoint, in other words, taste (the Ricciarelli we eat will have to be tasty and enjoyable, no?) the ridged production code says nothing at all. It specifies shape, height, weight, appearance, and firmness. That's it. What would happen, one wonders, if one of these precious ricciarelli tasted like fish, or smelled of lavender, or were too bitter?

I hope people will keep this in mind when it comes time to codify the production of another classic Sienese sweet that is being fought over: Panforte. Its battle began before the Ricciarello Skirmish, and the paperwork was sent to Brussels in 2002. The Sienese do know how to wait...

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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