Could Norfolk’s favourite foods become protected?

Iconic products including the Norfolk black turkey and the Cromer crab are being invited to join the ranks of the Melton Mowbray pork pie and Cornish clotted cream in applying for special EU protection which celebrates their unique origins and recipes.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has challenged UK food producers to nominate the next 50 products to benefit from the Protected Food Name scheme.

The status identifies regional and traditional foods whose authenticity can be guaranteed, while the named product is also given legal protection against imitation throughout the EU.

Last week, the traditional Cumberland sausage gained the 44th British Protected Food Name and the number is expected to hit 50 by the end of the year.

For foods which achieve the coveted stamp of approval, the scheme can turn them into a Europe-wide household name and bring commercial benefits for the producers, according to ADAS which handles all UK applications.

While the scheme, which launched in 1993, was once better known for continental produce like Parma ham and Champagne, the UK is now punching above its weight with an increasing number of foods making the list, but products from the East of England are still yet to feature.

No products specifically linked to Norfolk are even currently going through the two-year application process, although Fenland celery and the Newmarket sausage are awaiting the accreditation.

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However, traditional farm fresh turkey and the traditionally farmed Gloucestershire Old Spot pork, both familiar sights in Norfolk, have already been recognised in terms of their rearing methods and not their geographic origin, while cask conditioned ale, British free range goose, traditional pasture reared beef and watercress are among others still at the application stage.

In a bid to spur more nominations, Caroline Spelman, secretary of state for the environment, called on Eastern growers and rearers to put their beloved products on the European food map.

'The foods of Britain are strongly representative of their local areas – we don't think of a British pork pie, but one from Melton Mowbray. These regional identities have been built over generations of painstaking dedication to producing iconic foods, and they deserve to be celebrated and protected,' she said.

'Nearly 40 more British foods are in the process of applying but we know that there are many distinctive local foods out there which may benefit from protection. So it's time to look for the next 50 products.

'In the East of England, there aren't any foods which have won this protection yet – but I know there are lots of fantastic local foods including Maldon sea salt, Norfolk black turkey and Cromer crab. These local foods deserve recognition.'

The status is open to foods produced, processed and prepared within a named geographical area and with features linked to that area. It is also open to foods that are produced with traditional methods and have unique features which distinguish them from other similar products but does not have to be tied down to a specific location.

But the criteria used to protect names has come into criticism, famously with the case of Stilton blue cheese when dairies applied that it had to be made with pasteurised milk. So when a cheesemaker started making it with raw milk, as was the original way, he was barred from calling it Stilton.

There was further furore when a cheesemaker named their cheese Yorkshire feta after the Greeks had claimed the name as their own. The maker was forced to change the cheese's name to Fine Fettle Yorkshire Cheese.

Despite the occasional controversy, those who work to promote Norfolk's independent food producers have thrown their backing behind the scheme.

With the county's vast collection of cheeses, renowned sea food and real ales, they said there are many opportunities for Norfolk to make its presence known on the protected name list.

Jane Miller, managing director of Produced in Norfolk, a producer's co-operative which works to promote the distinctiveness of the area, said: 'I think it's excellent. Anything that helps the public to recognise where the product genuinely comes from is a good thing.'

She added: 'We get a lot of people pretend their product is made in Norfolk through some really tenuous links, like just bottling it in Norfolk and then using the word Norfolk to sell it.

'The public genuinely believe these products are made within Norfolk.'

The scheme has also been endorsed by Tastes of Anglia, the region's food and drink marketing group, which has been actively encouraging its members to submit nominations.

Pat Graham, of Peele's Norfolk Black Turkeys, at Thuxton, which has traditionally reared the revered turkeys for more than 130 years, said she supported anything that recognised the true characteristics of the unique breed and promoted its survival.

'What's now happening is that the birds are being crossed with the white birds because the Black itself is slightly smaller. The birds have been crossed but it's still sold with the Norfolk Black label on it. It dilutes its (the Black) various characteristics,' she said.

'A true Norfolk Black has its own flavour, it's a kind of a nutty flavour. It's pipe grained to give a moist meat and doesn't break away and dry up like other birds.'

Cromer crab fisherman John Davies said recognition for the emblematic north Norfolk food would help local businesses.'You do get times when we haven't started fishing at Cromer and you will see a sign somewhere for fresh Cromer crab. Especially when it says fresh, that's when it makes your blood boil,' he said.

'I'm sure the Cromer crab name does help sell crabs and Cromer as a whole. It doesn't matter who you speak to, you say Cromer and they will say Cromer crab. It's something everyone knows and it definitely helps the industry and even Norfolk as a whole.'

To suggest local foods you think worthy of a Protected Food Name, email with the subject 'Local food- the next 50'.