European Union Makes a Meal of Regional Treats | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.08.2008

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European Union Makes a Meal of Regional Treats

What do you get if you take a potato, cover it with Turkish delight, douse it in passion-fruit juice and serve with a wedge of soft goat cheese? A sample of the EU's food designation system.

Parmesan cheese from Italy

Cheeses are the most frequently protected food items in the EU

There is no better way to appreciate the sheer complexity of life in the EU than by looking at the types of food and drink it has taken under its wing.

Greek Feta cheese

Greek feta cheese has been protected since 2002

Under the union's Protected Designation of Origin system, regions of the 27-member bloc that think that a food or drink produced in, and named after, their territory can protect the name. That way only producers working in the region can use it.

One famous example is feta cheese: Since 2002, under EU rules, only sheep- and goat's-milk cheese produced by a specific process and in specific parts of Greece can be called "feta."

Cheese is the most protected food

But in total the PDO system covers 782 types of food, ranging from Arctic vegetables to Mediterranean sweets -- a classic example of the bewildering diversity that is the EU's daily bread.

Woman at a potato harvest

Certain types of potatoes have been designated

The most popular type of product listed is cheese, with 165 types under protection, from feta to a Swedish cheese called Svecia. The second most popular is olive oil, with 97 listings.

The protected product which comes from the furthest north is the Lapland potato, "Lapin puikula," which grows amidst the low hills, forests and swamps of Arctic Finland.

The westernmost protected delicacy, meanwhile, is a passion fruit, the "maracuja dos Acores," whose flowered vines grow aggressively in the near-tropical sun almost 1,200 kilometres out in the Atlantic on the volcanic island of Sao Miguel, in the Azores.

Finnish potatoes, Istrian olive oil

Italian olive oil, bread, nuts and herbs

Italy topped the EU-designated foods list

And the dish which is produced both furthest south and furthest east in the EU comes from the ancient village of Geroskipou, on rocky Cyprus, a place best known for its 1,200-year-old Byzantine church.

Its local delicacy, a gelatinous sweet flavoured with lemon and rose petals (English-speakers would call it "Turkish delight"), is listed on the EU's books as "Loukoumi Geroskipou."

The Finnish potato and the Cypriot delight are each their country's only PDO entry. That is by no means a record: Hungary, Slovenia and non-EU-member Colombia also have one entry each (salami from Szeged, olive oil from the Istrian peninsula, Colombian coffee), while Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta have none at all.

Full beer mugs

Germany has 12 types of beer

At the other end of the scale, Italy has an impressive 169 entries. That includes 54 fruits, 38 types of olive oil and 34 cheeses.

South exceeds north in designations

Italy is followed by France, with 156 entries, then come Spain, Portugal and Greece. Indeed, between them the Mediterranean powers account for 628 of the 782 foods on the list - four fifths of all the entries.

By comparison, the EU's northern members -- Britain, Ireland, and the Benelux and Scandinavian states -- have just 56. Germany has 62, of which 12 are beers and 24 are mineral waters.

It may, at least, explain why northern Europeans complain that they can never reach their Mediterranean colleagues at lunchtime.

And with the EU's neighbors as keen as ever to get into the club, the one thing that seems certain is that the bloc's menu is likely to get longer -- and more complicated -- with every course.

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