(ANSA) - Italy's famous Grappa drink has been recognised with a European Union seal of approval protecting it from inferior clones.
Grappa is a brandy distilled from the pulpy mass of skins, pits, and stalks left in the wine press after the juice of the grapes have been extracted to make wine. The strong spirit from northern Italy has earned a certificate saying only Italian Grappa can claim to be the real McCoy.
Italian farmers' associations hailed the news, which confirmed Italy's lead in the EU quality-food stakes.
The Italian Conferderation of Farmers said "this is very important because it defends an Italian product that has suffered heavy attacks from international food pirates over the last few years".
Coldiretti, another farm association, said the EU's certificate of provenance "protects Italy's best-loved drink and Italy's most imitated wine distillation from counterfeiters who falsely produce it in South Africa, Argentina and the United States".
Grappa has almost 20% of the Italian spirits market, followed by whisky with 15%, brandy with 9.7%, rum and gin with 5.4%, vodka with 3.2%, tequila with 0.8% and cognac with 0.7%.
Last month Italy added two more notches to its food excellence belt, extending its dominance of the world quality rankings. The classic 'Ascoli olive' - a scrunchy olive au gratinfrom the Marche city - and crisp apples from the northern Alto Adige region have attained EU recognition, stretching Italy's lead in the speciality food stakes overthe next best EU member, France.
In October three other regional specialities, Rieti chestnuts, a Lazio olive oil called Tuscia and Genoese basil - a key ingredient in Genoa's world-famous pesto sauce - joined Italy's roll of honour. Italy has already taken action on some 700 specialities but more are waiting to qualify.
The latest bidder to join the list is a big carrot from the Po Delta.
A committee of carrot farmers is set to ask the EU for a label attesting to the carrot's special qualities and recognising that it could not be grown anywhere else. There are two EU certificates of quality: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and, slightly more prestigious, Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Like the apples, olives and chestnuts, grappa earned a PGI.
Italy is a world-beater when it comes to quality food.
Last summer Rome's ricotta cheese was awarded a PDO label, edging Italy away from France at the top of the EU rankings. In February saffrons from l'Aquila in Abruzzo and the towered Tuscan village of San Gimignano joined olive oil from Valdemone in Sicily in earning the PDO label.
They followed fatty bacon (lardo) from Colonnata near Florence, which got a PGI label late last year, and honey from the Lunigiana region of northern Tuscany with a PDO label - the first Italian honey to win such recognition. Other Italian gains have been five top olive oils, bergamot flavouring, Roman suckling lamb or 'abbacchio' and goose salame from Mortara near Pavia.
Quality certificates have also been awarded to prickly pears grown on Mt Etna, apples from Val di Non in the far north-east and the tiny but tasty Pachino tomato from Sicily. Most of the products have been labelled PDO. Italy has reeled off a string of initiatives aimed at beating back impostors.
The Italian government has been pressing the World Trade Organisation to clamp down on wine piracy while legal battles have been won for Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan).
Another recent government scheme seeks to monitor the quality of food served at supposedly authentic Italian restaurants outside the Bel Paese. A raft of products are still lined up for EU seals of
approval, including artichokes from the Ancient Greek site at Paestum south of Naples.
(Photo: The Nonnino family, makers of Italy's best known grappa).