In the United States, there are Italian sounding products wherever you turn, and the average American consumer might even be forgiven for falling prey to the imposters. Frappuccino, Chicken Florentine, and Parmesan cheese, to name a few of the most conspicuous offenders.
Thankfully there is a crusader on a mission to expose these profiteers. Today on the podcast I speak with Robert from “Stop Italian Sounding” who sets us on the path of righteousness when it comes to enjoying (and supporting) the genuine artisanal products of Italy, while helping us to identify the pretenders.
At first, I thought Robert was merely a fellow Italian American who, like me, had spent some years living in Italy and had his own “Aha!” moment of awareness when it comes to the glaring differences between Italian and Italian American culture, especially as it relates to regional cuisines. (I have my own set of Italian Food Rules that I’m pretty dogmatic about.)
But after talking to him, I realized that Robert’s passion goes even deeper. He went as far as to get a Masters in International Business from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano. He thesis is called: Real and fake “Made in Italy” in the USA – An analysis of Italian sounding cheeses.
I was shocked when he told me during our conversation that the misrepresentation of these products abroad costs the Italian economy in excess of 100 billion Dollars/Euro every year… or about 5% of the entire Italian GDP! Wow.
In other words, nefarious players are profiting by creating Italian sounding products that have absolutely no basis in the culinary traditions of Italy, but yet they market these rip-offs to “sound” like something Italian. On their labels they use Italian words, the colors of the Italian flag, and famous landmarks like the Tower of Pisa or the Colosseum to give some vague reference to an alleged authenticity.
Italian Sounding Products
Another topic we touched on is the “Made in Italy” designation, which has, unfortunately, been manipulated in recent years. Often these products are sourced in other countries, and merely “pass through” Italy in order to “earn” that distinction.
On the other hand, “Product of Italy” carries more weight with regards to being an authentic representation of Italian quality. So look for that difference when shopping to avoid Italian sounding products.
Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been a particular target of this type of misdirection. Olives—or even olive oil already pressed—is imported from other countries, then merely bottled in Italy with an “Italian Olive Oil” label that is misleading, at best. Not to mention that the brands that engage is this sort of deception will often add cheaper sunflower seed oil or canola oil to the final product. Che schifo!
We also spoke about the sublime joys of lingering inside an Eataly location, and imaging, just for a moment, we’re at a trattoria in Rome or Milan or Florence. This led us to talking about the ways that you can differentiate a real Italian restaurant from an “Italian sounding” restaurant. The latter of which is found in much greater abundance in the U.S. (or U.K. or Canada).
First rule of thumb: check the spelling on the menu! Italian is such an easy language from a phonetics standpoint, and yet it’s amazing how often the simplest words are misspelled. Also, how is the Italian menu arranged? Are there clear choices for antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, and dolci? Or is pasta offered as a “side dish” with your chicken parm? A HUGE red flag!
Follow Stop Italian Sounding on Social
For more in-depth information, follow Robert of social media where he serves up small bites of knowledge of the topic. His social profiles contain entertaining and education feeds on the prevalence of Italian sounding products in our society. Check him out of Instagram and TikTok for your daily dose of real Italian culture and authentic food.
And if you’d like to listen to our conversation about Italian sounding products, check us out on your favorite podcasting platform. Please feel free to submit your own comments into the conversation, or topics for future episodes.