Why? Because, just as Italians classify wine with labels like DOC and DOCG, they also certify high-quality foods from Italy with a similar label: DOP. All of these acronyms can be a bit confusing, but they’re important to know about… they guarantee that what you’re eating is a local Italian delicacy, not an imitation!

As supporters of sustainable travel (and food!), we encourage you to enjoy DOP products to get the most authentic tastes of Italy. Here’s what to know about DOP labels and Italian food!

What does DOP mean?

Prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano, two DOP protected Italian foodsTwo DOP foods of Italy: prosciutto crudo di San Daniele, and Parmigiano Reggiano
DOP is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (literally “Protected Designation of Origin”). As the the name suggests, this certification ensures that products are locally grown and packaged. And it makes a promise to the consumer: It’s a guarantee that the food was made by local farmers and artisans, using traditional methods. In fact, by law, only DOP products like balsamic vinegar can carry the word “traditional” on their labels, because they adhere to local traditions.

So the DOP label may bring a higher price tag with it. But it also promises the highest quality!

How does a product become DOP?

Italian specialties get DOP recognition by following a strict set of guidelines: Every step, from production to packaging, is regulated.

Of course, not all local Italian specialities are recognized as DOP. Even more confusing, though, you have to always look for the DOP label to ensure the product is DOP. For example, mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) is a DOP product. But only certain brands carry the seal. Other types of mozzarella di bufala, therefore, aren’t necessarily made in the traditional way, with the traditional ingredients; only the DOP varieties are. (Here’s more about buffalo mozzarella, one of our favorite Italian specialties… especially when it’s DOP-certified!).

What about IGP?

“DOP” isn’t the only label. You may also find the IGP, Indicazione Geografica Protetta (“indication of geographical protection”), label on Italian products. While also well-respected, this certification is less strict than DOP. It traces food specialities back to their geographical origin to at least one phase in production, but not to all phases, like DOP.

What are some famous DOP foods, and how do you find them?

Buffalo mozzarella DOP cheeseMozzarella di bufala, or “buffalo mozzarella,” is one of our favorite DOP food items in Italy!
Want to really taste the difference between an authentic Italian food… and its imitators? Then keep an eye out for the red and yellow DOP label, always including a serial number, on packaged goods. When eating out, examine the menu: Some restaurants will write DOP next to the relevant ingredients.

Curious about which foods are certified DOP? Here’s a list of some of our favorites!

Mozzarella di bufala (Campania, Lazio): Considered to be more creamy than mozzarella made from cow’s milk, buffalo mozzarella is a true Italian delicacy. Love this tasty cheese? Find out some surprising facts about it here.

Balsamic vinegar (Emilia Romagna): DOP balsamic vinegar, from Modena and Reggio Emilia, has a thicker consistency and richer taste than most other vinegars on the market—and can be aged for over 12 years. (Here are more fun facts about balsamic vinegar of Modena!).

San Marzano tomatoes (Campania): Long in shape and bittersweet in taste, these tomatoes are harvested by hand. They’re later crushed, canned… and used to make dishes like pizza and pasta taste out of this world!

Olive oil (Abruzzo, Calabria, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Puglia, Sicily, Tuscany, Veneto): This staple has the largest number of DOP varieties of any Italian food specialty, and it comes from many different Italian regions. Some regions even have multiple DOP oils from different areas! (Check out our post on the regions of Italy for more about what sets these areas apart!).

Also, don’t miss our video on making olive oil in Tuscany, below!

These exquisite olive oils vary in taste, color and robustness. All, however, have a low acidity and are made of freshly-picked olives. (Here’s more on how olive oil is made, what “extra-virgin olive oil” really means, and other fascinating facts we bet you didn’t know about olive oil!).

DOP food of Italy, Ligurian basilDOP basil from Liguria (a necessity to make DOP pesto alla genovese!)
Basil (Liguria): The best basil, beautifully fragrant and green, is believed to come from a small town in the province of Genoa. It’s no coincidence that the same area is famous for pesto—another DOP product in its own right! (Here’s what to know about pesto alla genovese and how to make it at home!).

Parmigiano Reggiano (Emilia Romagna, Lombardia): Perfect plain, paired with fruit or grated on a plate of pasta, this hard and salty cheese is aged for a minimum of 16 months.

(Check out our fun video on making Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, below!).

Prosciutto (Emilia Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Le Marche, Tuscany, Veneto): The many moutwatering varities of savory, smoked ham (Modena, Parma, Carpegna, Toscano, Veneto, San Daniele) vary in smokiness, aged and color.

What’s your favorite DOP food? Can you “taste the difference” between a DOP and non-DOP product? Let us know in the comments!