Italy has been known for ages for the authentic goodness of produce from gardens and orchards and the unique qualities of foods, such as cheeses and meats, made by artisans following local traditions. A growing number of such foods has been officially protected under European Union regulations approved in 1992.

Two categories were created. The first, known by the initials DOP (for denominazione di origine protetta) applies to "agricultural and food products whose properties are essentially or exclusively derived from their geographical environment, inclusive of natural and human factors, and whose production, transformation and processing are effected in the place of origin." All phases of production must be carried out within a delimited geographical area.

The second category of IGP (for indicazione geografica protetta) applies to agricultural produce or foodstuffs whose qualities and properties or reputation are derived from their geographical origin and whose production and/or transformation and/or processing occur in the given geographical area." It is enough that just one phase of production takes place in the designated area.

By 2000, there were 72 DOP and 31 IGP products recognized, though more candidates abound in both categories. The 103 protected foods then included 30 cheeses, 20 types of olive oil, 18 meat-based products and two traditional balsamic vinegars. Yet the foods approved to date represent a fraction of the inventory of local products.

Italy has more culinary specialties than any other country. All of the nation's 20 regions recently presented lists of typical foods, arriving at a nationwide total of 2,171 specialties as candidates for eventual protection. The regional lists take in 376 types of cheeses, plus numerous olive oils, meat products, breads and pastas, as well as vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, mushrooms and truffles, honey, herbs, spices, condiments and preserves, wine and fruit vinegars, pastries and sweets.

To become eligible for DOP or IGP status, foods must be grown or processed following rules formulated by producers and approved by the European Union. Norms and quality standards are enforced by national commissions. Labels of producers who comply are guaranteed for authenticity throughout the EU, though protected foods are also recognized in other countries.  

Eat in Italy
Terms for shops where food is sold and may be eaten on the premises are rosticceria (specializing in roast meats), tavola calda (hot dishes), tavola fredda (cold foods), paninoteca (sandwiches), gelateria (homemade ice cream). Enoteca (wine library) usually refers to a retail shop, though some enoteche also serve wine and food.

Ristorante should be a full-fledged restaurant providing complete menus (fixed price or � la carte) cooked by a professional kitchen staff and served by waiters, including a sommelier, experienced with foods and wines. The term, from the French restaurant, came into use after the Risorgimento to describe elegant and sophisticated dining establishments. But, as popularity spread, ristorante also came to apply to pretentious ordinary places.

Trattoria, which suggests familiarity as a derivative of trattare (to deal with or attend to), applies to a neighborhood, small town or rural eating house, often family run, serving local foods and wines. Though the surroundings and service are usually unostentatious, like the price, the classic trattoria should provide exemplary regional cooking. Daily menus are often hand written or chalked on a blackboard or simply recited.

Osteria, from the Latin hospes, originally defined an inn providing food and lodging. But the name came to signify a modest wine house, often serving simple foods-like the similarly cozy taverna or locanda. Such locales have faded. Osteria (or hostaria) suggests simplicity, but the term (like locanda, taverna or trattoria) may apply to a sophisticated eating place.

Pizzeria, the pizza parlor popularized in Naples and the south, provides its specialty baked by a pizzaiolo in a wood-fired oven to be eaten on the premises or taken out. As the most popular type of eatery in Italy, the pizzeria no longer confines choices to pizza, but often provides other dishes, usually at lower prices than a ristorante.


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