Putting the Cornish back into pasties The EU ruling that Cornish pasties must be made in Cornwall underlines the importance of the world's many food specialities
Agnès Poirier guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 February 2011 18.00 GMT Article history
The EU has ruled Cornish pasties must be made in Cornwall. Photograph: Alamy
Cornish pasties, the 19th century miner's own kind of packed lunch, must now be made in Cornwall. The EU says so, they have even made it a rule. For nine years, the Cornish Pasty Association fought for what is called protected geographical indication (PGI) – and it has won. Alongside its geographical origin comes a whole set of rules on how one produces Cornish pasties: their shape, the nature of the filling and the baking process. And, of course, no artificial flavouring or any additives should get into them.
In other words, PGIs – and their French counterparts, appellation d'origine protégée (AOPs) and appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOCs) – are "an official mark of quality awarded to regional products with specific characteristics and taste produced with traditional methods". Do you remember other Homeric AOC battles? There was the three-year "holey" war between Swiss and French Gruyère makers, when French producers, astonishingly arrogant, demanded a super AOC to protect their Gruyère (the one with holes in). The Swiss cheese-makers suddenly woke up from their blissful life and invoked ancient Roman history to win their case: who dared steal the limelight from their – far superior, in my view – un-holed Gruyère! The EU thought the French were pushing it a bit far and holey Gruyère makers retreated.
You may also remember the 20-year battle fought by camembert producers? They bickered about the nature of their AOC: should camembert, which "smells like the feet of God", according to cheese addict Will Studd, be made with pasteurised or unpasteurised milk? The hand-moulding, pro-unpasteurised artisan producers finally won the argument against Lactalis (the second largest cheese producer in the world, industrially producing 80,000 camemberts a day), which simply wanted to renegotiate with the French authorities the way of making camembert while retaining their AOC. Cheeky!
All those endless battles might sound, like Gargantua's Picrocholine wars, ridiculously trite. However, I'd say that they touch on something fundamental: one's belonging to le terroir. In today's time, in "our global village", such terms may sound conservative or simply passé. In fact, they are the only tangible link we still have with reality. No matter how "globalised" we have become, we all come from somewhere. Food, too. It may, throughout the ages, have been coloured, influenced, or changed by external elements – as the gastronomic wizard Claudia Roden has written about extensively. However, terroir, or "from the land", shouldn't be dismissed. Terroir doesn't mean conservatism, it means diversity. Against a globalised grub, it stresses the importance of the world's many specialities. In the same way as it seems better to buy vegetables from local growers, it is logical to taste local specialities everywhere you travel. Terroir is a window on the world worth fighting for.
Tell me about your favourite local dish. The winner (arbitrarily chosen by me) will get a pasteurised camembert from my favourite fromager in Normandy.