Italian Tiramisu

“From Panetone to Tiramisu, many iconic Italian classics are recent innovations.” What say you?

For those of you who think the financial press is just about stock prices, currencies and corporate goings on, think again!

Two weeks ago, the Financial Times published a remarkable interview with an Italian academic who questions the origins and authenticity of many well known Italian staples. From Panetone to Tiramisu, many of these iconic classics are recent innovations, was one shocking claim.

For those of us knee deep in food and beverage marketing projects, ‘origins’ and ‘authenticity’ are words we commonly use; perhaps overuse I think in light of this article. 

According to Alberto Grandi, for some a Marxist academic, for others a culinary provocateur, much of what is labelled Italian, isn’t actually so.

Take Pizza, most Italians hadn’t heard of it before the 1950s, or Tiramisu first appeared in Italian cookbooks in the 1980s, he claimed.

Napoli Pizza, another ‘protected’ Italian delicacy. Photo: Big Dodzy

Mama Mia! 

Not only does the article question Italian pride, it also threatens its food and beverage business.

Italy has over 5000 Agri food specialties recognised by the EU. They’re accredited as being distinctive in origin or geographic location and include Proscuitto di Palma, Aceto Balsamico di Modena, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano and Mozarella di Bufala Campana.

Protected designation of origin, or POD in Italian, is big business. Figures vary but agri-produce accounts for around 25% of Italian GDP and there are around 200,000 businesses linked to POD certification. 

The innocent sounding Qualivita Foundation is charged with protecting Italy’s POD status. It fights against food fraud and Italian sounding products.

Last year Slovenia crossed swords with Italy over its Aceto Balsamico Frama, you’ve guessed it a Balsamic vinegar that wasn’t produced in Modena, never mind Italy.

No surprise perhaps that earlier this year the Qualivita Foundation was running seminars on “supply chain integrity.” Is that a euphemism for protectionism I wondered?

For the Financial Times article, Alberto Grandi was interviewed in Italy, in an Italian restaurant by an Italian journalist. Previously he has joked that “he’d only leave his house with bodyguards, like Salman Rushdie.” In 2019 at a conference in Turkey he was reprimanded by the Italian Ambassador for ridiculing Italy’s POD system.

Italy’s POD clearly is no laughing matter.

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