While the concept of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée was for a long time confined to the countries around the Mediterranean, it was in relation to wines that the initials AOC became synonymous with quality assurance, first in the rest of Europe, and then North America. Certain AOC-labelled products with an international reputation, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma ham, Roquefort and Gorgonzola, went on to contribute to the fame of the seal in conjunction with non-wine products on an even more global scale.
The increasing number of labels on the market that identify a product’s origin has come about partly as a result of the demands of consumers, who are increasingly mindful of what their food contains and where it comes from; but also as a result of the quest for greater diversity and authenticity, which favours produits de terroir (traditional or local foods with a strong sense of identity). Initially devised to protect the names of reputed products from misuse, particularly in the wine industry, labels identifying a product’s origin gradually came to be perceived as instruments for guaranteeing the quality of products and fostering rural development.
The primary argument in favour of acknowledging labels certifying a product’s origin is to encourage diversity in what is being offered. Indeed, if we want to safeguard produits de terroir, it is necessary to ensure that certain of their features are preserved, and this goes against the process that is seeing the standardisation of resources, products and tastes. More acidic fruits (Corsican clementines), potent cheeses with farmyard flavours (Munster, Pecorino, Roquefort) and high-fat products (lardo di Colonnata) are all interesting alternatives to industrial products that typically defuse flavours and focus on health needs.
Due to the deteriorating quality of the famous Gruyère cheese, milk producers, cheese-makers and affineurs in Switzerland took a stand by creating the Gruyère Charter in 1992. It triggered a movement that led to the name's protection in 2001. The adoption of strict specifications, coupled with an ongoing dialogue between those involved in the production chain bore fruit: sales rose by almost 50 per cent within ten years.