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Protected Foods – Portugal

Protected food classifications in Portugal

by Great British Chefs 06 November 2015

Thanks to its warm climate and long coastline Portugal boasts over one hundred protected foods. This includes Portuguese wine, cheese, meat and fish, which is protected by the EU protected foods system, as well as Portugal’s own equivalent system — DOC (Controlled designation of origin)

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In 1756, Portugal became the first country in the world to create a protected wine area, when the Marquis of Pombal defined and protected The Douro Valley to ensure the quality of Port wine, which was then at the height of its success. The early 20th century saw the creation of the região demarcada system, which sought to distinguish Portuguese wine regions. Following Portugal’s entry into the European Union in 1986, the denominação de origem controlada system was established to protect both regional wines and other agricultural products.

As with other European countries, the new EU regulations were adopted in the nineties, but in practice existing classifications are often used as the European system is relatively unknown by consumers in Portugal. The uptake of the European classifications differs between food products and sectors.

As with all other countries in the EU, there are three types of European protection available for foods and agricultural products. Under EU law, wines have their own scheme and are classified separately to other drinks and foodstuffs, although wines still bear the same PDO/PGI labels.

Number of protected foods: 133

DOC – Denominação de origem controlada (Controlled designation of origin)

The denominação de origem controlada system for the classification and protection of wines, cheeses, butters and other agricultural products was established in the eighties, modelled on the French, Italian and Spanish systems.

The DOC classification determines production methods as well as geographical regions and wine samples must be submitted to the regulatory body for approval. A secondary classification, indicação de proveniência regulamentada, can be awarded to wines that have distinctive characteristics, but have not adhered to the rules for the production for high quality wine for the minimum five years.

Products that had been awarded national protected food status at the time of the European regulations were grandfathered into the new system and a mix of the old DOC and new European classifications are used on products from the country. A mandate to switch is unlikely to be introduced until 2020 at the earliest.

DOP – Denominação de origem protegida (Protected designation of origin)

This is the strongest protection that can be afforded to a food. It is used to classify food with characteristics that are completely unique to a place or region.

To qualify for this status, the food must meet two specific criteria:

  • The essential properties of the food must be determined by the geographical location – both natural influences and distinct local knowledge.

  • All aspects of the production must take place in this area.

Example: Queijo Serra da Estrela (Cheese from Serra da Estrela)

Queijo Serra da Estrela is made in a region located on the Beira uplands, an area centred on the Serra da Estrela National Park which includes Portugal’s highest mountain range. The local micro-climate is characterised by long, cold, rainy winters and hot, dry summers, and the natural pastures are rich in wild perennial grasses, herbs and clover, which lend the cheese a unique flavour.

There is evidence of cheese production in the region stretching back to Roman times, a history that has resulted in particular animal husbandry expertise and distinct local methods of cheese production – this cheese is made entirely by hand. The cheese is made from raw ewe’s milk using local cardoon thistles (Cynara cadunculus) as rennet and only Bordaleira Serra da Estrela or Churra Mondegueira sheep (both local breeds) can be used for milk. All breeding, milk and cheese production, aging and processing takes place in the region.

The result is a rich, perfumed cheese flavoured by seasonal grazing on the unique local flora. Considered the king of Portuguese cheeses, the paste varies in texture depending on age, ranging from soft, semi-liquid when very young to supple and dense when aged. Its particular qualities are the result of traditional slow-draining techniques and the use of local thistle instead of animal rennet.

IGP – Indicação geográfica protegida (Protected geographical indication)

This protection is afforded to foods that have a connection with a place or region.

To qualify for this status, the food must meet two specific criteria:

  • This protection is afforded to foods that have a connection with a place or region. To qualify for this status, the food must meet two specific criteria:

  • At least one aspect of the production must take place in this area.

Example: Alheira de Vinhais (Sausage from Vinhais)

Alheira de Vinhais is a smoked sausage made in the Bragança and Vila Real districts of north-east Portugal. The pigs consume large quantities of chestnuts, which grow plentifully in the region, and the resulting sausage is smoked over local oak or chestnut wood. Pig-breeding has long been important for this area and significant knowledge of these traditional, unchanged production methods has developed among the populace.

Alheira de Vinhais must be made with meat from the Bisaro breed of pig, or 50% cross-breeds. The sausage must also contain poultry meat (for the cooking stock), regional wheat bread and local olive oil from Trás-os-Montes. The pigs are born, reared, fattened, slaughtered and butchered in the designated region.

Although all the raw materials are sourced from the region and production and processing both take place in the region, the influences of local flora and fauna are not specific enough for the product to be awarded DOP status. Therefore here the geographical link is primarily the history and traditions of production in the region, coupled with the use of local raw materials.

The result is a juicy, naturally-fed pork sausage with flavourful, high quality meat.

ESG – Especialidade Tradicional Garantida (Traditional speciality guaranteed)

This protection is afforded to foods that are made under a traditional name, using a traditional method.

To qualify for this status, the food must meet two specific criteria:

  • The product must have characteristics that distinguish it from similar products and although methods of production are historically fixed in the same way as DOP and IGP, they must have been consistent for at least the past thirty years.

  • The characteristics cannot be due to the geographical location.

Example: Bacalhau de Cura Tradicional Portuguesa (Traditionally cured Portuguese cod)

This preparation of cod developed in the 15th century as a way to preserve fish for long sea crossings. North Atlantic cod species Gadus morhua, which is found in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, is particularly suited to this application.

The whole cod is gutted, scaled and cleaned, salted, matured and dried using traditional methods that stretch over at least 150 days. As this is an ESG classification, it is the raw materials (the cod species) and the method that are protected, rather than the geographical location in which they take place.

The result is a distinctive dried, salted cod of superior taste and texture to common salted cod. The flesh is juicier and more tender, with better flaking.

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Protected food classifications in Portugal


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