Protected Foods — Spain

Protected food classifications in Spain

by Great British Chefs 6 November 2015

Based on the French appellation system the Spanish DO (Designation of origin) system runs concurrently with the European protected foods scheme. Here we explain the various Spanish foods and wines that are protected, including Tenerife honey, cheese from Beyos and olive oil cakes from Sevilla.

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The Spanish system for protecting regional produce was first introduced to protect Rioja in 1925, then extended to Sherry in 1933. A full system for the classification of regional wines came shortly after and parallels the French system. In 1970, the scheme was expanded to include other agricultural products of outstanding social and economic significance and ultimately offered protection for hams and fresh meats, beans, lentils, rice, honey and peppers.

The denominaciones de origen (DO) scheme followed in the eighties, a system which was harmonised with EU regulations in anticipation of membership in the nineties. The Spanish and EU schemes run concurrently with each other and the choice of whether to use one particular classification on labels is left to the producer.

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

Number of protected foods: 183

DO – Denominación de origen (Designation of origin)

In 1982, in preparation for joining the EU, Spain revamped its food protection system, creating the denominaciones de origen (DO) classifications for wine. In 1991 an extra classification of quality wine was added, denominación de origen calificada (DOCa), but thus far this has only been achieved by the Rioja and Priorat regions.

DO status was awarded to products with superior, identifiable characteristics made with specific ingredients from a verifiable source. However, in some instances it has been suggested that DO status was awarded to regions with one particularly significant producer, or on the basis of the potential for future production. Many of Spain’s most prestigious wines have avoided the DO system altogether and have independently built a reputation for product quality.

In the nineties, these rules were harmonised with the EU regulations and, as with other countries such as France and Italy, the vast majority of DO products were automatically awarded DOP status. This means that products registered before the introduction of the new scheme are subject to different, typically less stringent, rules than those registered after. The DO classification now runs parallel to the European system and they are often used interchangeably. A mandate to switch is unlikely to be introduced until 2020 at the earliest.

Rioja is one of only two wines to be awarded a DOQ
Jamón ibérico is another Spanish food with DO status

DOP — Denominación de origen 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: Miel de Tenerife (Honey from Tenerife)

This honey is produced on the island of Tenerife, from bees that forage in the island’s varied ecosystems. The soil characteristics and resulting flora are shaped by the island’s volcanic origins and are unique to Tenerife. The Abeja Negra Canaria (Canary Island black bee) has evolved to suit the climate and geography of the island. Miel de Tenerife is produced, extracted and prepared for sale exclusively on the island.

The production of honey on the island has a history that stretches back over 600 years and honey features in many recipes and traditional desserts; natural methods of production and extraction have developed over that time. The honey is not subject to heat treatment during processing so is unpasteurised, which means the distinctive flora of the region is represented unaltered in the resulting honey.

The result is a range of natural, small-batch honeys of different colours, flavours and types, reflecting the variety of ecosystems and flora on the island. Some are multi-varietal and some are sourced from a single plant source, such as avocado, chestnut, fennel, agave and honeydew, to name but a few.

Honey from Tenerife
Each batch of honey has its own unique flavour

IGP —Indicación 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:

  • The essential properties of the food must be connected to a geographical location – either natural influences or distinct local knowledge.

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

Example: Queso de Los Beyos (Cheese from Beyos)

The Los Beyos region is a mountainous gorge which covers the municipalities of Oseja de Sajambre, Amieva and Ponga in northern Spain, isolated by mountain ranges on all sides. Within the region, there is a history of communal herds and flocks which has resulted in distinct shared customs and agricultural output. All aspects of the cheese-making and maturation take place in the region.

Although the region’s varied altitudes, climate and the resulting flora is reflected in the cheese, the main connection, for classification purposes, is the cheese’s reputation in the local area. Reference is made to the production of the cheese and its specific qualities as early as the eighteenth century. Gastronomical books too, have long exalted the cheese’s properties and flavour.

Queso de Los Beyos is made using either cow, sheep or goat milk, either raw or pasteurised. Its small size and distinctive paste is due to production methods that have remained essentially unchanged over the years. It is made from a mixture of morning and afternoon milk and is placed for a short time in a smoking room before being aged.

The result is a unique cheese, quite distinct from anything made in the surrounding areas. Its dense, crumbly, chalky paste dissolves in the mouth into buttery smoothness and its flavour is milky, tangy and slightly acidic.

ETG — Especialidades tradicionales garantizadas (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: Tortas de aceite de Castilleja de la Cuesta (Olive oil cakes from Castilleja de la Cuesta)

As well as wheat flour, almonds, sesame and anise, the tortas are made with nearly 30% extra virgin olive oil, with the quality of the oil distinguishing these tortas from other similar crispbreads. The crispbreads are shaped by hand and wrapped individually in waxed paper when packaged, steps which also render this traditional product distinct from other similar products.

Although these tortas are associated with the small town of Castilleja de la Cuesta in Seville, the ETG classification means they can be made anywhere and carry the name, as long as they are made in the traditional fashion.

The result is a light, crunchy biscuit with a crumbly, flaky texture achieved by hand-shaping. They have a distinct flavour and aroma from the extra virgin olive oil and aniseed used to flavour them.