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Should Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) dishes exist?

Most of us know you can’t copyright a dish (see this article on The Guardian) but the correctness of dishes is highly debated from Chicken Tikka Masala (is it Punjabi… or Glaswegian?) to Jamie Oliver coming under fire last year for putting chorizo in a paella recipe. I must admit that the latter caught me by surprise as while I know plenty of facts about Bolognese, I believed paella to be a dish open to far greater interpretation. Such as fish pie; mine generally features salmon, smoked haddock and prawns in a white sauce made green with the inclusion of a lot of fresh parsley then topped with mashed potato. I remember the horror of the time I bit into what I believed to be cod only to have a mouth filled with boiled egg and while it took me a few years to fully trust my mother again, I allow that hers is a fair variation on a fish pie. I have experimented with strong cheddar in both the sauce and the mash and while the herbed version remains my favourite the cheese was a hit with my kids.

The EU’s 1992 creation of Protected Designation of Origin has been a wonderful way to protect both producers and consumers and while English Sparkling Wine is a bit of a mouthful, I like that Champagne clearly conveys what you can expect from a bottle thus labelled. Single Gloucester having PDO status has been hugely significant to the breed Gloucester Cow (I love how many breeds have fancy names but in Gloucestershire they called theirs Gloucester Cow) whose milk is used. It’s a lovely cheese which I serve often at Gloucester Studio and I know it is always locally produced as if it isn’t made in Gloucestershire it can’t be called Single Gloucester.

Some dishes come under the PDO rules; a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie must made in the area around Melton Mowbray according to a traditional recipe. It must feature raw pork (in chunks not minced), be hand-raised and of course be well jellied. Which makes you wonder if the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association might not have a thing or two to teach the Spaniards rolling their eyes at Mr Oliver. If I sound facetious then hear me out. A couple of years ago I called into my butchers and asked for streaky bacon and beef shin. As I picked up a jar of goose fat from the shelf, Nick asked if I was making beef bourguignon. Now that is a dish I wouldn’t mess with (although arguably I should be weaving lardons into my beef) and would be annoyed if I ordered it in a restaurant and rather than mushrooms discovered chunks of aubergine. Such is the classic combination that a good butcher can guess what you’re making based on the trio of animal products the dish calls for.

The problem with protecting dishes under PDO rules is that it would be awful for the restaurant industry; one of my favourite Chinese meals was in New York, my favourite café when I lived in Malaysia was Lebanese and a proper wood fired pizza is something I’m very much looking forward to on my family’s holiday to Spain this summer. It would be incredibly frustrating to have to travel to Vietnam each time I wanted an egg coffee (oh hang, on that’s currently the case) yet perhaps key elements could be agreed upon in order for a dish to be sold under a certain name. So perhaps you could make and sell Polbo á feira outside of Spain but while the octopus could be fresh or frozen, the only spice permitted would be paprika. Or am I missing the point? Would what I’m suggesting deny the pleasures of debating the acceptable way to make dishes or even lead to civil war within certain regions?

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