The EU initiative covers agricultural products and foodstuffs “closely linked to the geographical area” and determines that at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation must take place in that selected area.
The ruling means that any similar products made outside the Waterford area cannot be sold as Waterford blaa. The floury bread bun is the latest of 55 products within the bread, bakery, cakes, biscuits and confectionery category to gain the EU approval since 1996.
The classification is part of an EU scheme which aims to encourage diverse agricultural production, protect product names from "misuse and imitation" and inform consumers.
Aside from this PGI status, products may also be nominated for Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) which is similar to the PGI status except it denotes also the use of “recognised know-how” within the area and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) which highlights the traditional character, either in the composition or method of production.
Of the 55 regional bakery and confectionery products previously mentioned, only two have successfully secured PDO status: the Italian breads Pagnotta del Dittaino and Pane di Altamura. There is no record of an area applying for a bakery or confectionery item TSG status.
The history of the bread dates back to the Huguenots in the 17th Century. According to one producer of the bread, M&D Bakery: "The simplicity of the basic ingredients of the blaa made it cheap and popular with the local population."
The protected status cannot be applied for by a single company and so the case of blaa bread was registered by an association of bakers who convened back in 2009 for this specific purpose. The Waterford Blaa Bakers Association comprises of M&D Bakery, Hickey’s Bakery, Kilmacow Bakery and Barron’s Bakery, all largely family run businesses.
Dermot Walsh, one of the two directors of the M&D Bakery, told BakeryandSnacks.com that this decision had not left anybody out in the cold since the bread is only really made in the Waterford area.
He differentiated between this case and that of products like the Cornish pasty which was already a relatively big production story before it was granted its European PGI status in 2011.
An EU-backed marketing strategy
“We were looking to protect what we had,” said Walsh. He said they did not want to be pushed out by larger companies who “just don’t give a damn".
Walsh told BakeryandSnacks.com that the local area had seen its bakery industry shrinking in recent years – “because of the onslaught of frozen doughs and changes in habits, etc” – but insisted that there is still a place for different kinds of breads from blaa to ciabatta to focaccia.
He said that blaa bread is a very niche product, traditional to Ireland and currently produced on a relatively small scale but that this status could help them in maintaining the bread’s original identity if any export plans were to come on the cards. M&D Bakery has recently begun freezing its breads and exporting to small outlets in Paris.