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Parma Ham is from Parma

It was one morning not long after I had first moved to Italy: on my way to work, I grabbed my morning paper, took my seat on the metro, sat down ready to read and block out the rest of my co-commuters. The headline caught my eye “ Scandal: Canadian Company Claims to Produce Parma Ham”. I giggled all the way to work. For the first time, something related to Canada was mentioned in the Italian news and it was about Canadians stealing the “Parma” name.  I mean really… who cares? Ham is ham, right? Whether it comes from Alberta or Parma, what could really be the difference?

My then boyfriend (now husband) didn’t find the story so amusing. He was down right upset! But I really didn’t get it. Why were these Italians getting their knickers in a knot about something so trivial as a name?

Italians have spent decades building their brand – “Made in Italy” and every time a company outside of Italy replicates an Italian product and gives it an Italian sounding name, it diminishes the value of their brand. It is counterfeit, pure and simple. Different systems (i.e. DOP)  have been put in place to protect the brand but these have little impact outside of the European Union.

8 years later…. I get it. And if you don’t get it… here is why you should: Canadians recently experienced their own brand theft when the “bottled in BC” scandal broke ( Grapes that are grown in  California or Washington are not like grapes grown in BC. They might be similar but they are not the same. Canadians were outraged – and rightly so!

You can learn techniques. You can replicate styles. You can even import the raw materials. But can you make the sun shine at the same intensity? Can you make the breeze blow off the lake in the same way? Can you create a soil with the same composition and chemistry? Despite our best efforts, there are some things that just cannot be copied. And this is a good thing. A very good thing.

It means that the wines in the Okanagan are not the same as the wines in Napa, Chianti or Niagara. They are different. They might be better, but in any case –  not the same.

It means that Balsamic Vinegar made anywhere other than Modena or Reggio Emilia is NOT Balsamic Vinegar.

It means that Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Sicily is different than that from Spain and its even different from that from Tuscany.

And for the love of all things good and holy, Parma Ham is from Parma. And only Parma.

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