What does Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) mean?

Some hams, along with various other products in the EU, are tagged with Geographical indications and traditional specialities such as PGO, PGS or TSG, generally at a higher cost. But why? This PGO question is one that we get asked frequently, so we thought we’d do a bit of clarification for all you quality-food-loving people out there!

The top of the (quality) food chain - Protected Designation of Origin

What are Geographical indications and traditional specialities?

There are 3 indications. Firstly, PGO or, in Spanish, Denominación de Origen Protegida, DOP, or just DO for short, is part of the wider Protected Geographical Status (PGS) definition under European Union Law established in 1992. Under the wide definition of PGS along with PDO, Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG).


Zzzzz… boring! How does this affect me buying a tasty ham?!


As any law it gets quite wordy, but the whole point is that only goods produced in a particular geographic region can be sold as such: Roquefort instead of blue cheese, Champagne instead of Cava, Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of hard Italian parmesan-style cheese. It also applies to wines, cheeses, sausages, seafood, olives, beers, and, luckily for us, Spanish ham! This guarantees you quality and traceability of the product you are purchasing, something the discerning consumer is ever more keen on knowing.


So what actually do these appellations mean?

Protected Geographical Indication

This is where it gets more interesting, as your prized Spanish ham goes from potentially being from China to being traceable to a very specific region…


Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO (DOP  in Spanish), is the toughest registration: the product must have qualities or characteristics which are determined by the region of production. It must also be produced, processed AND prepared exclusively in that region.


Protected Geographical Indication, or PGI (IGP in Spanish), is slightly less strict where the product must have qualities or characteristics which are attributed (as opposed to noticeably distinct qualities and characteristics in the PGO case) to the region of production. It can be produced, processed OR prepared in that region.


Traditional Speciality Guaranteed, or TSG (ETG in Spanish), is not a geographical denomination; it can be produced anywhere. It aims to set apart a product based on traditional elaboration methods and features clearly setting it apart from others.

Traditional Speciality Guaranteed


What’s the purpose?


The whole purpose is to “protect the reputation of regional foods, promote rural and agricultural activity help producers obtain a premium price for their authentic products, and eliminate the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour”, according to Wikipedia.


How does it actually work in real life?


Whilst the case of Champagne (pun intended) or Roquefort might be more well known, there are plenty of examples of challenges to Spanish ham.


In the case of serrano ham, as we mentioned our recent article on Chinese “serrano ham” shows how the challenge to authenticity arises as globalised products of unknown quality come on to the market place. Within Spain itself, regions such as Teruel and Trevélez are serrano ham producing regions which are protected against the Serrano ham mass production in the rest of country. In one fell swoop, these apellations also protect against unfair competition, given that producers are restricted in terms of their ability to offshore the factories or outsource part of the production process to a cheaper region.


The case for ibérico ham is even stronger: the evolution of production over the past several years has led to a concentration on the lowest rung of the ibérico ladder, or non-acorn-fed, non-pure-breed, farm-raised ibérico legs (we’ll post on this shortly). Specifically, diluting the genes (ibérico mixed with Duroc pigs) is crushing the pure-breed and semi-acorn-fed markets as consumers, interested in being on the ibérico ladder, force producers to cut costs as much as possible thereby promoting cross-breeding and mass farm production. With DOP protection, traditional areas of production such as Guijuelo, Los Pedroches, La Dehesa de Extremadura and Huelva can prove their authenticity and genuineness, eliminating unfair competition and allowing them to command a price which is commercially viable to maintain traditional productions methods which are 150 years in the making.

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