Food certified for its authenticity and quality
Slovenia prides itself on its rich and diverse culinary heritage. To preserve its authenticity, it has so far protected 28 food products, 17 wines and four spirits with the European Commission.
Delicacies such as the potica, the ultimate Slovenian cake, are well known even world-wide, but less so others such as the mohant, the piquant soft cheese, or the cured meat called šebreljski želodec.
If it were not for the geographical indication labels, people will a less keen palate might find it hard to differentiate between the air-dried ham or pršut (prosciutto) from the region of Kras and that from Istria further to the south.
By protecting products with various quality schemes, Slovenia is preserving not only its cuisine, but also the identity of its countryside, cultural heritage and traditions.
Agricultural products and foods are included in such schemes because of their specific characteristics or features that may be due to the geographical area in which they are produced, the nature of production or processing methods or traditional recipes or processes entailed.
Alternatively, the schemes also cover products that go beyond the required quality, or conditions relating to the protection of human, animal or plant health, animal welfare or environmental protection.
The Agriculture Ministry notes that the products covered by these schemes are subject to strictly prescribed production procedures and additional controls by certification bodies.
Food-related products are protected in a two-step procedure. In the first stage, the ministry protects the product, and in the second stage, those wishing to produce the protected products must be certified. They are required to renew their certificates once a year.
There are three European quality schemes in force in the EU: protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG) and organic production.
Under European quality schemes it is also possible to protect the names of food-related products.
Protected designation of origin
The characteristics of the agricultural or food products protected with the PDO label are vitally linked to the area whose name they carry. Not only do they have to be produced and processed in a specific geographical area, but the geographical environment, including natural and human factors, must also significantly affect the product's characteristics.
Such factors include the climate, the quality of the soil and local know-how and experience, such as the bora wind in Kras or mountain pastures.
The eleven Slovenian products carrying the designation include the cheeses nanoški sir, tolminc, bovški sir and the mohant from Bohinj, the extra virgin olive oil from the Slovenian Istria, the Kočevje forest honey, the Kras honey and the Piran salt.
Together with Croatia, Slovenia has protected istrski pršut, the air-dried ham from Istria, the Istria olive oil and the meat of traditional Istrian cattle called boškarin.
Protected geographical indication
The agricultural products and foods carrying the PGI label are linked to the geographical area concerned but the link is not as close as in the case of PDO. They need to be produced and processed in the area concerned but the raw materials for example can come from another location.
The product's specific quality, reputation or other characteristics need to originate in the specific geographical area.
Thirteen Slovenian products have such a label, including kraški pršut, the air-dried ham from Kras, and several other cured meat delicacies (zgornjesavinjski želodec, prleška tünka, kraški zašink, kraška panceta, prekmurska šunka and šebreljski želodec), as well as the Štarejska hops, eggs from the foothills of Kamnik mountains, the red onion known as ptujski lük, the Kranjska sausage, the Slovenian honey, and the pumpkinseed oil from Štajerska and Prekmurje.
Traditional speciality guaranteed
The TSG designation refers to products for which their specific qualities are related to composition, methods of manufacturing or processing that are based on tradition.
The designation protects primarily the recipe or the method of production, while production is not limited to a certain geographical area. Such products may be produced by anyone who adheres to the prescribed recipe, process and form.
The four Slovenian TSG protected specialities are the potica, the rich layered cake from Prekmurje known as prekmurska gibanica, the simpler flat round cake called belokranjska pogača, and the ravioli-style idrijski žlikrofi.
Slovenia successful in protecting its products
According to the Agriculture Ministry, Slovenia has been successful in protecting all the products it wanted to protect. So far, 28 agricultural products or foods, plus 17 wines and four spirits have been protected with the European Commission but more are in the pipeline.
The country has just completed the national process to protect hay meat, that is meat from animals that are fed hay (without silage) as a traditional farming method, as a TSG. The ministry will now send an application to the European Commission for assessment.
The Commission is already examining joint applications with Croatia to register the Istrian honey and the Istrian sheep's cheese, both as protected geographical indications.
The ministry says that protection is important mainly because of the strong competitive pressure from foreign industry.
"Consumers are increasingly looking for quality, authentic and unique products. They trust protected products more because of the additional controls carried out on those products by independent bodies at least once a year."
The ministry says that standardisation of recipes or production and processing methods ensures uniform and consistent quality across producers, but protection schemes are also important to preserve the country's culinary and cultural heritage and identity.
Traditional cured meats from Šebrelje Plateau
Šebrelje, a village in the centre of the namesake plateau in the west of the country, is known for its cured meats, especially the šebreljski želodec, which translates as Šebrelje stomach because the pork meat used to be stuffed into the casing of a pig stomach.
According to oral tradition, the production of the delicacy is centuries old and, although it was later produced elsewhere in that part of the country, it has retained its original name, under which it was recognised by the European Union as a protected geographical indication in 2012.
One of the best-known producers of šebreljski želodec is Drago Polak. "The production process is nothing special. We use the thigh, back and shoulder of the finest pork to make it. In the past, this mixture was stuffed into a pig stomach, but today it is mainly the pig's bladder that is used," says Polak.
"The secret of the želodec is the maturing process, which is quite a challenge. It has to be pressed, cleaned, turned, at the right temperature, with the right relative humidity. Otherwise, it can spoil quickly," he explained for the Slovenian Press Agency.
The conditions for curing or drying such meat on the Šebrelje Plateau are excellent: "There is a constant flow of air. Without the right climate, the product would not reach such quality."
Polak is a registered producer, but he does not have a PGI certificate, which he says is too expensive. "I find it extremely important to continue the tradition of making the želodec, and I hope that more locals will take up this activity. I also expect the state to do more to encourage the preservation of such tradition," he says.