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Welsh Government: GI food and drink: Wales has all the right ingredients


Gower Salt Marsh Lamb
Gower Salt Marsh Lamb PDO

In 1997, when Alison and David Lea-Wilson left a saucepan of seawater boiling on their Aga they could never have guessed how this most basic of kitchen chores would transform their lives.


“As the salt crystals started to form, we knew we’d struck culinary gold,” the Anglesey-based couple, whose family business is one of the Welsh food and drink industry’s biggest success stories, recall.


Fast forward a quarter of a century and Halen Môn / Anglesey Sea Salt is enjoyed by chefs and food lovers alike. The product is among a growing list from Wales to attain coveted GI status that enables consumers to seek them out around the world.


‘Geographical Indication’ is not a term that rolls easily off the tongue but can make a world of difference to sharing our pride in the best of Welsh food and drink. And when it comes to promoting the distinctive quality, authenticity and heritage of its natural place of origin, Wales is on the top shelf.


The designation for Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) are both geographically linked, with the product having characteristics linked to the area where it is produced. PDO status means all preparation, processes and production takes place in the area whereas PGI status means some elements can be completed elsewhere.


For example, although PGI Welsh beef is born and reared in Wales, it can be slaughtered further afield as long as it is in a Hybu Cig Cymru / Meat Promotion Wales PGI approved abattoir.


Committed


Welsh Government is committed to expanding the range of Welsh food and drink with the GI quality mark, and actively encourages and supports GI applications from all sub-sectors in Wales.


Today there are 20 products on the Welsh ‘A-list’ compared with just 93 in the whole of the UK. From Halen Môn / Anglesey Sea Salt to Carmarthen Ham, and from Traditional Welsh Caerphilly cheese to PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh Beef, with Welsh Laverbread, Welsh Wine and more, there is a veritable feast of Welsh products proudly protected by one of the most authentic badges in the industry.


The UK’s GI panel was created when the UK left the EU. DEFRA chairs the scrutiny panel (consisting of experts within certain areas) which meet to discuss and review GI applications. The Secretary of State then considers their recommendations before a three-month consultation is dispatched to all interested stakeholders.


And what is immediately apparent is just how well Wales has performed in comparison to the rest of the UK through its support and promotions of GI applications. Blessed with both outstanding produce and passionate producers, we truly are the envy of the other devolved nations.


Since 2009, the number of products acquiring PDO/PGI status has risen steadily. As the Welsh GI ‘family’ has grown more producers can identify the potential value GI status can bring to their product.


GIs are not just about products being made in Wales. There has to be a link to the area, which can include geographical, historical and human factors. In addition, to meet GI criteria the product has to be a distinctive product and the name being protected has to be in the commercial marketplace.


One of the initial aims of the GI scheme was to enhance the rural community and protect the diversity of agricultural products so consumers would not be misled with cheaper imitations.


There is correlation between PGIs and PDOs and quality – the GI schemes were originally introduced as ‘quality schemes’, after all. The ethos of the scheme is in its inclusivity. And it is the product which receives the GI status, not the producer.




Natural beauty


Amaeth
Natural beauty

As to why Wales is home to such outstanding and unique products, then look no further than our rich natural landscape. Our geographical features take some beating plus there is an abundance of natural beauty, minerals in the soil and heavy rainfall and an extensive coastline.


That essential Welsh Government support includes promotion and marketing. Several events are organised to showcase products alongside the Culinary Association of Wales, while business development reviews focus on those companies capable of scaling up and growing footfall. In addition, tool kits are supplied for chefs and discussions held on the challenges faced.


The over-riding goal is to drive recognition of the GI programme while at the same time encouraging buyers and consumers to seek out GI logos and buy them.


The message is that food, drink and agricultural products with a geographical connection and/or made using traditional methods can be registered and protected. GI protection guarantees a product’s characteristics or reputation, authenticity and origin, therefore safeguarding it against misuse or imitation.


To apply for PDO and PGI status, producers must complete a Product Specification, this includes citing description of the product, production methods, proof of origin, and that all-important link to the geographical location.


For Huw Irranca-Davies, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, the benefits of the scheme are clear, as are the implications of Wales’ high number of producers with PGI or PDO products.


“Having a means of guaranteeing the provenance, heritage and quality of food and drink products that are uniquely Welsh is of vital importance to our food economy. This is what PGI/PDO status does. It also makes it so much easier for consumers, at home and beyond our borders, to know they are buying the very best food and drink.


“It is great to see so many Welsh producers participating whole-heartedly in the PGI/PDO scheme and attaining this gold-standard of quality. Not only does it demonstrate the buoyancy of the sector, but it points to the tremendous natural bounty of Wales and the dedication and skill that our producers bring to putting food on our table.”


So, what exactly did Welsh producers have to do to make the A-list? And what benefits has GI status given their companies?




Halen Môn / Anglesey Sea Salt PDO


Halen Môn / Anglesey Sea Salt PDO
Halen Môn / Anglesey Sea Salt PDO

Barely before the water in that saucepan had cooled, Alison and David Lea-Wilson had started supplying Halen Môn / Anglesey Sea Salt to Swains, their local butchers.


Thousands of customers now consider it the best salt for cooking – it was served at the 2012 London Olympics, royal weddings and political summits and is a key ingredient in Green & Blacks chocolate as well as Piper’s Crisps. Even former US President Barack Obama is a fan!


And brand director Jess Lea-Wilson has no doubt about the value of the company’s PDO status which they have enjoyed for the past decade. “We are the only British sea salt company who has such an accreditation and that makes us stand out from the crowd,” she says.


“The PDO really shows we are doing things properly and that the way we make our sea salt is genuine and protected. During the summer we run regular behind-the-scenes tours so people from all over the world can come and see how the product is made.”


And Jess does not hesitate when asked how Halen Môn / Anglesey Sea Salt achieved its coveted PDO accolade. “We are trying our level best to do things properly,” she says.




Traditional Welsh Caerffili cheese PGI


Traditional Welsh Caerffili cheese PGI
Traditional Welsh Caerffili cheese PGI

“Passion, tradition and love.”


These, according to Susan Fiander-Woodhouse, whose Blaenafon Cheddar cheese Company, in partnership with fellow producers, Caws Teifi and Caws Cenarth, has attained PGI status for Traditional Welsh Caerphilly cheese, are the key ingredients in securing the prestigious mark.


“It signifies we have traditional products, a long history and good quality foods here in Wales,” she says.


“Such products deserve protection – a PGI is one of the top worldwide awards of recognition and we are producing one of the world’s most expensive cheeses because of it.”


She enjoys relating her experience during a recent visit to Wookey Hole in Somerset where a resident cheesemaker proudly revealed one of their products would fetch £500 per 25kg in Harrods.

“I told him a cheese we were producing would cost £2,500 for the same amount – or 100 grams for a tenner,” she chuckles.


“Getting PGI status was quite easy because when I did my training up in Cheshire thirty years ago Caerphilly cheese was part of our examination thesis. I hadn’t worked with it in all that time, but a couple of years ago decided to go back to my roots.”


Success at the 2022 Royal Welsh Show duly paved the way for PGI status. “Such an award preserves the product,” she says. “There are so few companies making Caerphilly in the traditional way that without us production would die out.



“Cheese lovers who come to us know they are savouring an authentic product. You’re talking history, quality and a simply orgasmic taste!”




Welsh Laverbread PDO


Welsh Laverbread PDO
Welsh Laverbread PDO

Jonathan Williams, whose Pembrokeshire Beach Food company is renowned for its Welsh Laverbread, believes that a great PGI/PDO product tells a story.

“It tells us our culture, our history and the people,” he explains. “PGI/PDO status is the pinnacle of what food represents to that community.


“Our PDO status was reviewed by environmental health officers who checked that our traceability was 100 per cent accurate and our processes were 100 per cent in line with the traditional way of making the product. The benefits are having someone from outside coming in and providing a stamp of approval.

“Why should consumers seek out companies such as ourselves? Because the stamp requires 100 per cent authenticity and quality – any buyer, be it trade or consumer, are purchasing part of a tradition and in doing so helping that tradition to stay alive.”




Welsh Regional wine (PGI) and Welsh wine (PDO)


Welsh Regional wine (PGI) and Welsh wine (PDO)
Welsh Regional wine (PGI) and Welsh wine (PDO)

Four Welsh vineyards currently form the basis for Welsh Wine’s PGI status – Glyndwr, Llaethliw, Velfrey and White Castle. The Welsh Wines produced by White Castle can increasingly be found on tables around the world. Robb Merchant, who set up the vineyard in May 2009 is in no doubt that this is largely due to the Welsh Wine’s PGI /PDO status, coupled with support from the Welsh Government.


“First and foremost, our wine is of a good standard and excellent quality,” he says. “It’s a unique brand and as far as I’m concerned GI status is helping to put our products on more tables as well as providing a powerful marketing tool that boosts consumer confidence.


“After 15 years in the wine industry we are regarded as one of the top producers in Wales and a lot of that has to be down to PGI/PDO status which is an acclaimed seal of approval.”




PGI Welsh Beef & PGI Welsh Lamb


PGI Welsh Lamb
PGI Welsh Lamb

The PGI stamp signifies that PGI Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef is different and has special characteristics unique to Wales that cannot be replicated anywhere else.


“Welsh farmers have known for generations that if you look after the environment, the environment will look after you,” says Anne Dunn, of Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales. “That’s the secret behind centuries of sustainable farming practices that have made Wales a producer of high-quality lamb and beef.”

With high standards of animal husbandry and pasture land management, family-run farms have helped preserve this unique landscape for generations and are one of the reasons Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef have achieved PGI status from the European Commission – since 2003 and 2002 respectively.


“Our lambs and cattle, which are all born in Wales, are tagged and logged from birth so that they can be identified as belonging to a specific farm and traced at every stage of the production process,” says Anne.

“Only approved, regularly inspected abattoirs can prepare the meat. Quality is at the heart of everything they do.”




Carmarthen Ham PGI


Carmarthen Ham PGI
Carmarthen Ham PGI

“The recipe of Carmarthen Ham has been handed down from generation to generation, the family legend being that when the Romans came to Wales and settled in Carmarthen, they stole the recipe and returned to Italy, renaming it Parma Ham!” Well, this is the story Matthew Rees never tires of relating.


“A great PGI/PDO product is one that embodies the rich heritage and traditional craftsmanship of its region,” he explains. “For Wales, these certifications not only signify quality but also serve as ambassadors of our culinary heritage and the pride we take in our local produce.


“We earned PGI status after an eight-year journey involving collaboration between our team—my mother, Ann Rees, officials from Welsh Government, in Westminster and Brussels. Despite facing uncertainty before the Brexit vote, we secured this status in 2016.


“The benefits have been significant. We enjoy increased recognition and support from Welsh Government and the PGI logo on our packaging enhances our credibility, signalling authenticity and quality. Legally our product is protected from imitation, providing peace of mind.”




Pembrokeshire Rock Oysters and Pembrokeshire Native Oysters


Pembrokeshire Rock Oysters
Pembrokeshire Rock Oysters

Andy Woolmer, who founded Pembrokeshire Atlantic Edge Oysters in 2019, explains why the company are currently applying for GI status for Pembrokeshire Native Oysters and for Pembrokeshire Rock Oysters. “For a small business like ourselves with quite a niche market and strong geographic link it’s a no-brainer,” he says.


“Pembrokeshire oysters have always come from the Cleddau estuary, so we were always going to be a very small producer. We therefore see GI status as a means to differentiate from competitors while also adding to the value of our product.


“A buyer can come across cheap oysters from all over the country, but GI status sets you apart from others. Oysters are like wines – they taste different according to where they come from in the UK. The flavour of the local sea defines their characteristics.”




Single Malt Welsh Whisky PGI


Single Malt Welsh Whisky PGI
Single Malt Welsh Whisky PGI

Penderyn, Aber Falls, Da Mhile, Coles and In the Welsh Wind attained PGI status for Welsh whisky in 2023. Award-winning Ceredigion distillery, In the Welsh Wind, launched their first whisky in April; their inaugural Single Malt Welsh Whisky described as being ‘a tribute to Welsh craftsmanship and heritage with an ‘In the Welsh Wind’ twist’.


“A PGI product should be something that starts conversations,” says Sally Sellwood, of ITWW. “A product that represents the area it is from in a way that people from that area will recognise and be proud to champion.


“As well as adhering to the relevant PGI standard, whatever it is will taste and look incredible and get people really excited.


“We worked with the other whisky-producing distilleries in Wales to agree a set of standards that a Single Malt Welsh Whisky should meet. As we were essentially creating the PGI standard from scratch it was a case of looking at what we all do and where the bar needed to be to ensure the PGI would earmark a product of exceptional quality.


“So why seek us out? At the end of the day, you’re buying from a business that cares about its products and the local community too and investing in local production to create something that carries that geographical indicator.


“At In the Welsh Wind, we are going beyond even the standards of the Single Malt Welsh Whisky PGI to produce a Welsh whisky that is made from Welsh barley grown within five miles of the distillery, and malted on-site, rather than in one of the commercial malting houses outside of Wales.”




Pembrokeshire Earlies PGI & Welsh Leeks PGI


Welsh Leeks PGI
Welsh Leeks PGI

Pembrokeshire-based Puffin Produce saw their celebrated Pembrokeshire Earlies potatoes gain PGI status as far back as 2013, with their Welsh Leeks following nine years later.


“A PGI product will encompass authenticity and integrity and the certification is proof that one if not all stages are intrinsically linked to a particular geographical area,” says Puffin’s Sarah-Jane Sutton. “The product that has been grown in that region will have been grown to the highest standard, in order to meet the PGI specification.

“As we’ve seen with the success of Pembrokeshire Earlies, protected geographical certification can be an important boost for growers’ businesses and a clear badge for consumers who are increasingly seeking out products with a clear and unique provenance.

“We are incredibly proud to be able to grow Welsh Leeks and Pembrokeshire Earlies, and the PGI status is a hugely important accolade to promote the quality and heritage behind these majestic crops.

“The PGI certification assures full traceability, whilst taking measures to improve overall quality through recognising the origin and unique qualities of a product.”




Clear benefits


It is obvious from producers involved in the scheme that not only does the mark carry prestige and authenticity, but it also increases customer confidence, as well as a product’s marketability. Does your business have what it takes to join this A-team of GI products? If so, the Welsh Government provides expert advice on how to qualify and apply for a place in this prestigious line-up of original Welsh food and drink. For information about applying for a UKGI or protected status please contact UKGI.Wales@gov.wales


The message is clear. For producers, GI status puts businesses ahead of the pack. For consumers, GI is an excellent indicator of quality, provenance and heritage that translates to a much better product to put on the table and a recipe for Welsh success.

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