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Prosecco wars: Italy protests Croatia’s bid for special status for its prošek wine

Italy is for a second time fighting to block Croatia’s attempts to get EU recognition for its dessert wine, describing the move as "an attack on Made in Italy".

Prosecco wars: Italy protests Croatia's bid for special status for its prošek wine
Photo: KRIS CONNOR/GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

It’s one of Italy’s most famous – and most often imitated – wines. And now, Prosecco producers and Italian politicians have responded angrily to what they claim is the latest “attack” on the tradition from outside Italy.

After neighbouring Croatia submitted its second application for special EU recognition for its centuries-old dessert wine, prošek, Italian members of the European Parliament have protested to the European Commission.

“We cannot tolerate the protected denomination ‘Prosecco’ becoming the object of imitations and misuses, particularly within the European Union,” wrote Paolo De Castro, an MEP and former Italian Agriculture Minister, in a letter sent to the EU Commissioner for Agriculture this week.

“Prosěk is nothing but the translation into Slovenian of the name ‘Prosecco’,” wrote De Castro.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco vineyards in Italy’s Veneto region. Photo: Miguel MEDINA/AFP

Luca Zaia, governor of the Prosecco-producing region Veneto, told Italian media: “Every now and again they try. But Prosecco has its own identity, and it is shameful that Europe allows such operations”.

Italian farmers’ association Coldiretti said the move by Croatia was “an attack against Made in Italy”.

Italy blocked Croatia’s first attempt to register prošek in 2013, when it argued that the name was too similar to prosecco. 

READ ALSO: ‘We can’t tolerate it’: Italian authorities seize ‘unauthorised’ Prosecco-flavoured Pringles

Although Croatian winemakers have conceded that the two words are similar, they say this is because of the two countries’ historical and linguistic connections, and argue that buyers will easily be able to tell the two wines apart.

“When Croatians say “prošek”, they mean sweet, dessert wine made near the Adriatic coast from the grapes that have been dried in the sun in order to concentrate the sugar in their juice,” explained Iva Tatic from the Total Croatia Wine blog.

“When Italians say “prosecco” (admittedly, the two words do sound alike), they mean the sparkling wine, produced exclusively in northern Italy, made from the glera grape variety, often blended with other white wine varieties.”

READ ALSO: Not just Prosecco: here are the other Italian sparkling wines you need to try

The Prosecco sparkling white, which has the highest classification available to an Italian wine, is produced in a territory spread over nine provinces in Italy’s north-east.

While the region spans over 500 towns in total, only 15 make Prosecco Superiore DOCG, the top-quality wine produced around the Venetian towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where complex geology is thought to make for a more diverse, flavourful taste.

Prosecco’s booming popularity both in Italy and abroad in recent years has led to concerns that the soil in the small geographical area may be eroded and irreversibly damaged by production.

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DISCOVER ITALY

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are ‘fake’ – and how to pick the best ones

Italy's countless sagre, or food fairs, are an autumn highlight. But how do you find the best events - and avoid the more commercial ones? Reporter Silvia Marchetti explains.

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are 'fake' - and how to pick the best ones

Italy’s renowned food fairs are one of the most exciting events during autumn and winter, particularly the coldest months when we’re looking for culinary weekend distractions. 

For the uninitiated, sagre are key gourmand exhibitions mixing local food, premium products, cheeses and olive oil – all the ‘excellences’ of the area – but lately I find some are just, well, fake. 

READ ALSO: The best Italian food festivals to visit in October

Instead of selling traditional indigenous delicacies, vendors sell a little bit of everything which they think appeals to foreigners and city people desperate for a rural break. 

Last weekend I went to the sagra at Osteria Nuova, near Passo Corese in Lazio, and found mozzarella from Naples and limoncello from Amalfi: now what do those have to do with the Rieti countryside?

It was sad and disappointing. Even though it takes place in an area which is famous at this time of the year for exquisite porcini mushrooms and chestnuts there was not even one single vendor selling these. Instead, there was codfish from Venice and porchetta from the Castelli Romani.

Up until a few years ago the Osteria Nuova food fair was very genuine and appealing: it was actually a real farmers’ market where animals were sold: not just rabbits and hens but cows, horses and donkeys. It was a vibrant event. 

Now the cages that once kept the animals are empty. And people just go there to stuff themselves with huge sandwiches and hotdogs. It’s always hell finding a parking spot because the fair is very close to Rome, luring day trippers on a ‘scampagnata’.

Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

My advice is to avoid visiting food fairs which are too close to big cities and towns, but pick offbeat villages or unknown rural spots where the sagre are small and with local producers selling authentic, ‘indigenous’ products. Choosing the remote hillsides, where traditions tend to survive, is of course better than the touristy areas. 

READ ALSO: Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy

Also, it’s best if the food fair is not too heavily sponsored or advertised in national newspapers. The best thing to do is search online for all food fairs in the area you plan to visit during the weekend or even during the week, and ask friends and locals as word of mouth can often be more reliable. 

Among the authentic sagre I would recommend the porcini mushroom food fair in San Martino al Cimino in the pristine hills of the Tuscia countryside in Lazio, where the woods are dotted with porcini. 

At the fair not only bags of huge porcini are sold but you can also buy a lunch ticket and taste various mushroom dishes sitting down at wooden tables. Last time I was served a delicious potato and porcini soup which inspired me to replicate (successfully) the recipe at home. 

However, the best thing is to search for the weird and unknown – food fairs with funny names and showcasing products that sound and look really bizarre. So forget about the usual truffles, mozzarella, limoncello, ham and pasta-filled events. I suggest opting for quirky food festivals in never-heard-of-before villages where the culinary adventure comes with a cultural jolt. 

Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

When I hear about something amazingly off-the-wall and tasty, with a particular story or legend behind it, my curiosity and taste buds tingle.

Last weekend I was surfing the web and came across the Ciammellocco festival in the tiny hamlet of Cretone, Lazio, which immediately aroused my curiosity. 

READ ALSO: 14 reasons why Lazio should be your next Italian holiday destination

As I had never heard of it before, I jumped in the car the following day and ventured out to an isolated woody area with a few small dwellings, where one single bakery makes this huge, funny-sounding, highly-nutritious sweet-salty doughnut with fennel seeds which has been around since at least the middle ages. Housewives used to make it for their husbands as a substitute for lunch when they went off working in the fields. 

Even though I have tasted similar ciambelle in my life none come close to ciammellocco, crunchy and tender at the same time, made with eggs but light.

Next I heard about the Sagra della Papera in Carassai, Marche region, offering succulent duck meat dishes with pappardelle pasta and roasted duck breasts, and given duck isn’t something you’d normally find in Italian restaurants, it makes the cut for authentic food events. 

Vegetarians can’t miss the Festival degli Orapi in the village of Picinisco north of Naples where guests are treated to platefuls of a unique, delicious spinach variety which is made exquisite by the fact that it grows beneath goat poo, a natural fertilizer. Locals actually roam the countryside with a knife to scrape away the poo and extract the orapi.

In Pedagaggi, Sicily, local housewives organize the Sagra della mostarda di fichi d’india, with gourmet dishes made from exotic-looking prickly pear mustards. 

READ ALSO: ‘La scampagnata’: What it is and how to do it the Italian way

Other curious sagre include the Festa del Gorgonzola set in the town of Gorgonzola in Lombardy which is the real birthplace of Italy’s iconic blue cheese. Huge pentoloni of steaming pots of gorgonzola in the middle of the piazza lure pungent cheese addicts. 

Also Diamante’s festival del peperoncino in Calabria is a must stop for lovers of strong, authentic hot dishes spiced up with chili peppers (there’s even a peperoncini eating marathon).

Real sagre tend to showcase one premium native product rather than a myriad with overlapping origins.

The more ‘local’ you dive into the deepest, remote corners of Italy full of tradition and folklore, the more genuine the sagra and the more satisfying the gastronomical experience.

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