Parmesan ice cream, anyone?

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ice cream

Italy has one of the most diverse portfolios of protected food and
drink products in Europe, a factor which marketers are increasingly
using to promote their foods. But some of the best known names in
Italian meat, cheese and wine are now being introduced to the ice
cream segment in a bid to further enhance their regional status.

With a growing number of food and drink products across Europe being awarded Protected Denomination of Origin status, consumer awareness of these products is greater now than at any time in the past, and with so many foodstuffs benefiting from an increasingly high profile, it is only natural that food and drink producers should seek new ways of capitalising on the growing consumer appreciation of the quality of protected origin products.

But the latest marketing move is a rather more offbeat attempt to benefit from DOC awareness. According to the Italian agricultural news service Coldiretti, protected designation products such as Vincotto balsamic vinegar, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Squacquerone and Pecorino cheeses, or wines such as Amarone, Barolo and Soave, have all been given a new lease of life as ice cream flavours - a novel way of combining Italy's culinary heritage with its passion for gelati​.

The Italian ice cream association (SIGA predicts that ice cream sales will rise by around 6 per cent this year to more than €4 billion, with the vast majority (60 per cent) of sales still coming from traditional producers rather than industrial giants such as Nestlé.

This continued dominance of the market by artisanal producers lends itself to product innovation - small scale producers have more leeway to experiment, and are more in tune with local culinary traditions - and combining ice cream with local specialities is likely to be the biggest summer 'fad' in Italy this year, suggests Coldiretti.

"People who prefer having a refreshing ice cream instead of a meal in the intense summer heat can now do so without giving up the traditional flavours,"​ Coldiretti said. "It's a trend which favours local products, with attention focusing on Mediterranean produce. The flavours here are based on extra-virgin olive oil, pesto, ricotta, celery, fennel, rosemary, sweet bay leaves, rocket, sage, prickly pears and lentils."

The products are designed to appeal as much to holidaymakers as to the locals, and if for the moment, attention is focused mainly on the big, well-known wines and the better known and more prestigious national cheeses, interest is also growing for other produce such as Bergamot and the purple Saint Erasmus artichokes, recently saved from extinction in the Venice lagoon by 12 farmers.

But with 137 of the 649 EU food and drink products with protected origin status, coming from Italy, including 40 fruit and vegetable products, 31 cheeses, 30 types of olive oil, 27 meat-based products, three bread products and two types of vinegar, there is plenty of choice for ice cream makers - especially when the 3,715 products with protected status within Italy itself are added to the list.

Italian producers have been quick to see the benefits of promoting PDO products, and have fought fiercely to preserve their rights to product names. Meat group Cremonini, for example, last year announced​ plans to step up production of speck, bresaola, coppa and other typical Italian meat products, while just this week the European Commission sided with Italy over the right to the Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) name which it claimed was being abused by cheese producers in Germany.

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