Postcards from Italy

Italy’s Protected Foods: Deciphering STG, IGP, and DOP Labels

There have been a number of news items recently regarding cases of fraud and adulteration involving some of Italy’s most important foods, including extra-virgin olive oil and parmigiano cheese. Though any type of consumer deceit is both wrong and illegal, those which damage the reputation and sully the name of traditional artisanal foods are particularly galling to Italians, where there is a strong and deeply-rooted culinary tradition…if you have any doubts, just take a look at the diplomatic incident between France and Italy last week around the humble carbonara.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Food quality is so important to Italians that the country has gone to great lengths to support producers and protect the integrity of their products by establishing strict criteria and guidelines to ensure authenticity, and clear labelling rules to guarantee that the consumer is getting what they pay for. Over the past twenty years, the European Union and Italy have created a system of highly-regulated geographical indications and denominations, first introduced in 1992 and further expanded in 2012. They may seem like a confusing alphabet soup at first glance, but once you understand how they work, these labels are a reliable way to determine if what you are eating is a genuine Italian specialty, or a low-quality knock-off.

Slicing Prosciutto di Norcia

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Reading labels carefully will not only ensure that you are purchasing some of Italy’s most traditional and prestigious specialties and products, but will also help support the dedicated artisanal producers who are vulnerable to competition from inferior substitutes that take advantage of lower production costs, mislead consumers, and damage the reputation of the genuine, locally-produced product.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Italy produces a vast number of geographically certified products; the latest reported numbers in March of 2016 list 269 products, with Veneto and Emilia-Romagna turning out 77 specialties from their regions alone. This makes Italy the leader in the EU for geographically denominated products, ahead of rival France. If you appreciate unique and excellent Italian food and are interested in the future of Italy’s historic rural culture and agricultural traditions, look for these symbols:

STG (Specialità Tradizionale Garantita – Traditional Guaranteed Specialty)


This is the least stringent EU registered trademark, and is used to denominate traditional food products with a unique and specific characteristic. Unlike other quality certifications, STG does not signify that the food product is tied to a specific geographical area, but STG guarantees that the ingredients, production method, or processing must be “traditional”, i.e. have been traditionally used to refer to the product or identify its traditional or uniquely specific character.

Pompeii 044

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Perhaps the most famous STG product in Italy is pizza napolitana, which was certified as a protected STG food in 2010. According to law, pizza napolitana must be made in the traditional manner using leavened dough, STG mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, basil, and be cooked in a wood-fired oven.

IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta – Protected Geografical Indication)


This EU protective trademark is used to certify foods and agricultural products that base their quality, reputation, or other important characteristic on the defined geographical area in which their production, processing, and/or preparation takes place. In other words, to use the IGP denomination, at least one determined stage of production or primary ingredient essential to the product must take place or be produced in a strictly regulated area.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

An example of an IGP product is Mortadella Bologna IGP. This mortadella is produced according to a specific process in a defined area of Bologna, though the pork used may be from pigs bred outside this area. Another example, Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP, is produced in Modena, but can include grapes that originate from outside the province of Modena. Other famous IGP products include Lardo di ColonnataSorrentine lemons, and a number of chestnut varieties.

DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta – Protected Designation of Origin)


This is the most rigorous of the EU protective trademarks for foods, and is used to denominate foods or agricultural products which have unique characteristics that are exclusively dependent on the geographical territory where they are produced or grown. The area must be notable for its environment, including particular microclimates or terroirs, and for the human intervention used there, including traditional production techniques or local craftmanship and skills. Together, these two factors combine to create a food or product which is unique to that defined area and impossible to imitate elsewhere.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

To be awarded a DOP label, all ingredients must be grown and animals bred in a specifically defined geographical area, where all the stages of production and preparation or processing must also take place. A good example is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP, which must be made from locally grown and processed grapes, as opposed to the Aceto Balsamic di Modena IGP mentioned above. DOP denominations are the most prestigious and the most common in Italy, where there are dozens of foods and products that are officially certified. The most recognized DOP products are a number of prosciutti and other charcuterielocal cheesesextra virgin olive oils, and Cinta Senese pork.

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore