The European Union makes a meal of regional treats
What do you get if you take a potato, cover it with Turkish delight, douse it in passion-fruit juice and serve with a little soft Greek goat's-milk cheese? The European Union.
There is no better way to appreciate the sheer complexity of life in the EU than by looking at the types of food and drink it has taken under its blue-and-gold wing.
Under the union's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system, regions of the 27-member bloc which think that a food or drink produced there and named after their territory can protect the name, so that only producers working in the region can use it.
One famous example is that of feta cheese: Since 2002, under EU rules, only sheep- and goat's-milk cheese produced by a specific process and in specific parts of Greece can be called "feta."
But in total, the PDO system covers 782 types of food, ranging from Arctic vegetables to Mediterranean sweets -- a classic example of the bewildering diversity that is the EU's daily bread.
Cheese most popular
The most popular type of product listed is cheese, with 165 types under protection, from feta to a Swedish cheese called Svecia. The second most popular is olive oil, with 97 listings.
The protected product that comes from the furthest north is the Lapland potato, "Lapin puikula," which grows amidst the low hills, forests and swamps of Arctic Finland.
The westernmost protected delicacy, meanwhile, is a passion fruit, the "maracuja dos Acores," whose flowered vines grow aggressively in the near-tropical sun almost 1,200 kilometers out in the Atlantic on the volcanic island of Sao Miguel, in the Azores.
And the dish which is produced both furthest south and furthest east in the EU comes from the ancient village of Geroskipou, on rocky Cyprus, a place best known for its 1,200-year-old Byzantine church.
Its local delicacy, a gelatinous sweet flavored with lemon and rose petals (English-speakers would call it "Turkish delight"), is listed on the EU's books as "Loukoumi Geroskipou."
One entry each
The Finnish potato and the Cypriot delight are each their country's only PDO entry. That is by no means a record: Hungary, Slovenia and non-EU-member Colombia also have one entry each (salami from Szeged, olive oil from the Istrian peninsula, Colombian coffee), while Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta have none at all.
At the other end of the scale, Italy has an impressive 169 entries. That includes 54 fruits (including, incongruously, a kiwi fruit, "kiwi Latina"), 38 types of olive oil and 34 cheeses.
Italy is followed by France, with 156 entries, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Indeed, between them the Mediterranean powers account for 628 of the 782 foods on the list -- four fifths of all the entries.
By comparison, the EU's northern powers -- Britain, Ireland, the Benelux and Scandinavian states -- have just 56. Germany has 62, of which 12 are beers and 24 are mineral waters.
It may, at least, explain why northern Europeans complain that they can never reach their Mediterranean colleagues at lunchtime.
And with the EU's neighbors as keen as ever to get into the club, the one thing that seems certain is that the bloc's menu is likely to get longer -- and more complicated -- with every course.
-- Ben Nimmo