Monday, September 23, 2013

The anatomy of a cheese label

In the last post I wrote about a piece of Taleggio that I had bought from the supermarket. It struck me later that it might be interesting to talk a little bit about the packaging of this cheese and the process of judging a cheese by its cover.

I’ve included a picture of the wrapper below and will talk through what I consider to be the important bits.

Label from the cheese that I picked up

(a) Here we have the name of the cheese and its origin, but the interesting bit is the “DOP”. This stands for ‘Denominazione di Origine Protetta’, which translates to ‘Protection Designation of Origin’ (PDO) for British produce and ‘Appellation d'Origine ProtegĂ©e’ (AOP) for French produce.

This label is proof that the product conforms to, and is protected by, European legislation that ensures that the cheese was not only made in the area from which the cheese was originally produced but crucially was made using methods considered essential to the giving the cheese its unique character. This is the same legislation that requires Champagne to have been made in a very specific part of France according to a well-defined method.

Cheddar isn’t protected in this way and can therefore be made anywhere in the world (although West Country Farmhouse Cheddar PDO is now protected).

The presence of this label doesn’t guarantee the highest quality but it does set a minimum standard that the cheese must have attained and is therefore generally considered to be a good representation of that cheese.

(b) This is the DOP label that demonstrates that the product conforms to the requirements for this type of cheese.

(c) This is the stamp of approval from the ‘Consorzio Tutela Taleggio’ (CTT) – the consortium for the protection of Taleggio – which was set up by the makers and maturers of the cheese to help create the case for the geographical protection of Taleggio .

This precise label is specific to Taleggio but other cheeses may have their own labelling for their own unions.

(d) This is the identification mark. It’s an identifier for the establishment which produced and packaged the cheese or other consumable. This helps to maintain a degree of traceability despite the branding and packaging of the retailer. With a little internet research, these can also be used to find the producers of supermarket ‘own brands’.

‘IT’ is the country code (in this case Italy), and will be found at the top, ‘CE’ stands for European Community (note that this changes with the country according to their language) and will be at the bottom. In the middle is the national approval number for the processing facility.

A quick google of “IT 03/048 Taleggio” brings up a number of sites that link the number to Emilio Mauri S.p.A., a well-known exporter of Taleggio. You can then review that website to find out more about how the cheese was made.

(e) A standard safety warning for this kind of cheese – note that it doesn’t say unpasteurised milk, implying that the milk is pasteurised. If it was unpasteurised then this would have to be marked on the label.

(f) I quite liked this little snippet of advice.

The use by date was stuck to the wrapper as a separate sticker – with a soft cheese like this; I personally would ignore what the use by date says and pick the softest feeling piece of cheese. You’ll probably find that this is the one with the shortest use by date though.

Also note the absence of a ‘Suitable for vegetarians’ label, which implies the use of animal based rennet – a very common in the production of traditional cheeses such as this one.

I’m not going to discuss the nutritional information in this post – I’m no dietician after all. Let’s just say we should try to enjoy cheese, as everything else, in moderation.

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