An appellation of controlled origin is a label which indicates that an agricultural product is from a specific region. Typically, food must also be produced in a certain way to qualify for an appellation of controlled origin, and national inspectors ensure that food producers comply. Qualifying for an appellation of controlled origin indicates that a food is an important part of a nation's culinary and historical heritage, and foods so marked usually fetch a high price at market.
The term originates in France. In French, the equivalent term is appelation d'origine controlee, as of the 1930s. The idea of offering appellations of controlled origins to specific foods dates back centuries, however. In the 16th century, legislation in France dictated which cheeses could legally be labeled “Roquefort,” so that consumers could be assured that they were purchasing true Roquefort, rather than counterfeit or knockoff versions. The label is not, however, a mark of quality. It simply means that the food under discussion conforms with the labeling laws which allow it to be labeled as “Beaujolais,” “Calvados,” or so forth.
Cheeses and wines are most often labeled with an appellation of controlled origin, although other foods are protected under the system as well. In the case of cheese, the label is stamped directly into the rind. Wines bear a mark on their label indicating that they meet labeling standards. If a food indicates that it carries an appellation of controlled origin, it means that the government feels that the area from which the food originates is unique, and that foods from that region should be clearly labeled. Foods which do not meet the standards may not carry an appellation of controlled origin, which can lead to frustration and confusion for producers who live in regions which share names with regions which are distinguished with an appellation of controlled origin.
Wines are also usually additionally labeled with a ranking system, which includes vin délimités de qualité supérieure, or “wines of superior quality,” along with vin de pays, “country wine,” and vin de table, “table wine.” A wine which bears an appellation of controlled origin label may be of higher quality, but not always. The label merely protects the regional affiliation of the wine, ensuring that the famous wine growing regions of France remain unique and distinctive.
Many nations in the European Union have adopted the practice. There are a number of reasons for establishing a program to monitor food producers and offer appellations of controlled origins. One of the primary reasons is that the appellations encourage food producers to retain traditional methods of farming and making agricultural goods such as cheese. Sloe Food, among other organizations, has been a major promoter of the concept, to encourage the retention of rich culinary history and traditions around Europe and the world. The labels also help to promote specific areas, and ultimately benefit the economy of the region as well.