Food and wine are inseparable from Spanish culture, and the attribution of a D.O.P. confirms such cultural associations with a specific region of origin for a food or drink. The strict regulation imposed ensures the product retains its traditional recipes and methods. The Spanish protection systems run in parallel to European regulation. Within the European union there are three criteria of protection attributable to food or agricultural products. Under EU law, as with Spanish regulations wine has its own classification system which is distinguished from other drinks and foodstuffs.
There are two key categories of classification: a Denomination of Origin (DO) and a Protected Denomination of Origin (DOP). A D.O. is a specific ‘stamp’ to wines and guarantee the geographic origin and quality of a particular type of wine (e.g. Rioja); this also protects the variety of grapes used and the production methods used to manufacture the wine. A D.O.P is similar to a D.O. but is applicable to food products. The designation of a D.O.P protects the geographic area a food is produced in, be it a specific town or region with all ingredients stemming from a verifiable source. It also protects the specific qualities and characteristics of the product which are bestowed from the culture, heritage and climate of the area.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Spanish royal family issued royal decrees to regulate the Spanish wine trade and prevent ‘maverick’ producers. The royal decrees soon began to address the quality and unique characteristics of products which is the foundation for the establishment of the D.O. and D.O.P regulations. Probably the most famous, and first established D.O. as we know it today, was the wine making region of Rioja in 1925. These wines famous around the world are protected from being confused with lower quality wines by their D.O. A similar scheme was set up for other foods such as Manchego cheese – which to carry a D.O.P must produced entirely in the La Mancha region, and made from manchega sheep in traditional ways.
D.O.P and D.O. are firmly established regulatory accolades set by the Spanish department of agriculture, fisheries and food. A D.O.P or D.O. however, is not only an honorary classification but is regulated by Spanish and European laws. Within Spain there exists ‘consejo reguladors’ which are regional representative, and governing/regulatory bodies overseeing areas of Spain and specific food types. These smaller regulatory bodies are made from independent, impartial experts within their field. Each regional regulatory committee reports directly to a central government council. These councils ensure no product that fails the strict standards on regional attribution, quality or expected characteristics and manufacturing processes are allowed to bear a D.O.P on or in association with their products.
This protection ensures the product meets strict quality, production and taste expectations but also protects the integrity of regional foods. Any product issued with a D.O.P or D.O. is strictly regulated which provides confidence for purchasers. Many foods are regionally consumed but this is not only for cultural reasons. Spain has a varied climate from the hot and humid Balearic Islands to the dry, and cooler Rioja region. Not only the climate changes regionally; but also the foods eaten, which both shape and are shaped by the many regional cultures still found today, and in Spain’s long history. Many crops flourish only with certain climates; which produces high quality, regionally inspired foods and production techniques.
For many products a D.O.P or D.O. has strict regulations applied to them beyond the geographic region, covering the production or growing methods, ingredients used and can cover many aspects of the products production to ensure only the highest quality products can be granted this accolade. For example, D.O.P. saffron, such as ours from Azafran Layra can only come from the first stamens harvested in a season as these are the most fragrant and pure; and preceding stamens form lesser grade saffron. The regulation of the saffron harvest ensures not only that the saffron is from La Mancha; but that it is of the highest quality.
Throughout Spain a D.O.P or D.O. is known as being a ‘stamp of quality’ and protects products distinct products from being confused with lesser-quality imitations or similar products. To many Spanish consumers a product possessing a D.O.P is always the preferred option – especially for special occasions! The possession of a D.O.P provides assurance for consumers that the product is exactly ‘what it says on the label’, and such foods and drinks hold a unique, protected status within the European union.