Culture, Taste, and Standards 

From Liz Williams

On Monday, September 18, 2017, SoFAB was the place to be for Italian products as we hosted the Extraordinary Italian Taste Master Class.  It was sponsored by the Italy American Chamber of Commerce of Texas and attended by representatives of the IACC; Elena Sgarbi, the Consul General of Italy from Houston; Frank Maselli, the Honorary Italian Consul in New Orleans; Carlo Bocchi, the Italian Trade Commissioner in Houston; and numerous experts who spoke of traditional Italian food products.  These products are made by time-honored controlled methods which ensure quality and consistency.  The Italian program ensures that these standards are maintained and are recognizable through labeling. 

In today’s food world, we speak glowingly of eating locally.  But is that realistic in the modern world?  I want to drink coffee and it doesn’t grow within 100 miles of me. We talk about the nutritional value of quinoa, but it is primarily grown in Ecuador.  What I do want is quality food, made in a way that respects the products.  And that is what we learned about during the Master Class at SoFAB.  We learned how Asiago and Grana Padano cheeses are made.  We learned why they are local products that cannot be replicated.  They can be copied, but the copy is no more the same product than corn whiskey made in California can be bourbon. 

America has been slow to adopt geographic indicators in our own country, and has been unwilling to recognize the importance of honoring them when they are recognized in other countries.  As Americans begin to recognize terroir in products such as Vidallia onions, Creole tomatoes and location specific wine-making, we may start to see that we need other countries to respect our geographic indicators.  We already have very specific requirements which, even if adhered to, will not result in a product being called bourbon if the product is made outside of Kentucky. 

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So the pleasure of learning about and tasting the unique qualities of Italy’s prosciutto di Parma, Piave and Asiago cheese, Grana Padano, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mortadella, and wine was ours last week. We hope the chefs, grocers, sommeliers, and importers in attendance enjoyed learning about geographical indicators and thinking ahead as to how they can help regions of traditional food here and abroad.