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'Made in Italy' Label Fails When Italians Argue Over Meaning of 'Italian'

How Italian is Italian enough?

Jelisa Castrodale

Photo by Flickr user fourthandfifteen

When you think of foods that are made in Italy, your brain automatically conjures images of Parmesan cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, and the kind of pizza that isn't endorsed by Peyton Manning. The Italian government had proposed making a special "Made in Italy" sticker to place on all of its most authentic exports, but those stickers may remain un-stuck, because Italian manufacturers can't seem to agree on the definition of "Made in Italy."

According to Reuters, Italy's Ministry of Economic Development proposed the idea at the end of last year, and started consulting with food producers in March to try to gauge interest and support for the project. It seemed like everyone would nod in unison at the mere suggestion—especially since grocery shelves are increasingly lined with Parmesan cheese from New Zealand and Prosecco from South America. Federalmentare, Italy's food producers' lobby, told Reutersthat the logo would "enable exporters to grab some of the $67 billion in annual global sales generated by foreign imitations."

But "Made in Italy" means different things to different manufacturers. For those in the Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium (which is a real thing), for example, authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese—also known as Parmesan—can only be made and manufactured within a very strict set of geographic boundaries. (According to a very detailed list of its specifications and regulations, even the cows whose milk is used must be fed "primarily on fodder from the defined geographical area.")

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That means the Consortium opposes the idea that products with foreign-sourced ingredients should be allowed to wear a Made in Italy sticker. "If we open the door to products with foreign ingredients, we are not talking of real Made in Italy," Consortium chairman Riccardo Deserti said. "This is not the kind of help we are looking for."

Prosecco manufacturers also want nothing to do with the "Made in"-designation, and don't want their own entirely Italian products to be grouped together with those whose ingredient lists include other European countries. It's kind of easy to see their point, since Barilla pasta—whose blue boxes are ubiquitous in American pasta aisles—has argued that it should get a "Made in Italy" sticker because it uses Italian production methods. That's true, but it uses those methods at factories in the United States and Russia; 16 of its 30 pasta plants are located beyond Italy's borders.

The idea has come to a complete standstill, stuck between purists who think it should be Made Entirely in Italy and those who think that foreign ingredients and foreign manufacturers shouldn't exclude them from earning a sticker, as long as they're mostly Italian. Whatever that is.