What is a controlled designation of origin?

Blue sheep’s milk cheese from Roquefort-sur-Soulzon is the only cheese legally authorized to be called “Roquefort”.

An appellation of controlled origin is a label that indicates that an agricultural product is from a specific region. Typically, food must also be produced in a certain way to qualify for an appellation of controlled origin, and national inspectors ensure that food producers comply. Qualification for an appellation of controlled origin indicates that a food is an important part of a nation’s historical and culinary heritage, and foods so marked often command a high price on the market.

The French appellation system is the most complex and well defended in the world and is administered by the Appellation d’origine contrôlée, commonly known as the AOC.

The term originates in France. In French, the equivalent term is appelation d’origine controlee, from the 1930s. The idea of ​​offering controlled appellations of origin to specific foods dates back centuries. In the 16th century, legislation in France dictated which cheeses could legally be labeled “Roquefort”, so consumers could be sure they were buying the real Roquefort, rather than counterfeit versions or imitations. The label is not, however, a mark of quality. It simply means that the food in question complies with labeling laws that allow it to be labeled “Beaujolais”, “Calvados” or so on.

Cheeses and wines are often labeled with an appellation of controlled origin, although other foods are also protected by the system. In the case of cheese, the label is stamped directly on the rind. Wines have a mark on their labels indicating that they meet labeling standards. If a food indicates that it has a controlled designation of origin, it means that the government considers the food’s area of ​​origin to be unique and that foods from that region must be clearly labeled. Foods that do not meet the standards cannot carry a controlled appellation of origin, which can lead to frustration and confusion for producers who live in regions that share names with regions that are distinguished with a controlled appellation of origin.

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Wines are also usually additionally labeled with a classification system, which includes vin délimités de qualité supérieure, or “top quality wines”, along with vin de pays, “country wine” and vin de table, “table wine” . A wine with a controlled designation of origin label may be of superior quality, but not always. The label only protects the wine’s regional affiliation, ensuring that France’s famous wine regions remain unique and distinct.

Many European Union nations have adopted the practice. There are a number of reasons to establish a program to monitor food producers and offer controlled designations of origin. One of the main reasons is that the appellations encourage food producers to stick to traditional methods of growing and making agricultural products such as cheese. Sloe Food, among other organizations, has been a major promoter of the concept, to encourage the retention of a rich history and culinary traditions across Europe and the world. Labels also help to promote specific areas and ultimately benefit the region’s economy as well.

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