AOC AOP cheese wine definition

What does AOC & AOP Mean for Food and Wine?

In France, AOP and AOC are labels in the food and wine industry to indicate and protect traditional regional products. It can be confusing to understand what it brings to a product you find in a market or why it matters so we’ve put together an explanation. Read on to discover more about these labels and what they mean for you.

If you’re in Paris and are looking for traditional AOC French cheese then check out our cheese shop Paris guide.

AOC & AOP meaning

When you’re visiting France or even shopping in your local market and see French wine or cheese, you’ll no doubt see AOP or AOC on the label. These are sometimes used interchangeably although there can be differences.

AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée which translates to ‘Controlled Designation of Origin’. The AOC certification is French and given by the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité or INAO. It applies to French agriculture products – mainly wine and cheese – that meet certain criteria. The criteria is based on the French concept of terroir which has no direct translation into English. Generally it relates to the specific certain geographical area, climate and know-how of the producer. The history of the AOC in France dates back to the early 1400s when the production of Roquefort was codified into French law. In 1919 the Law for the Protection of the Place of Origin was passed and has dictated on where a specific product must be made. For example, for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it must be made in the Champagne region. The AOC designation officially began in 1935 when the Comité National des appellations d’origine (CNAO) was started.

AOP, or PDO in English (protected designation of origin), is extremely similar to AOP and is another geographical label by the European Union. This designation was created in 1992 with an sim of preserving the heritage of food and beverage products. Like the AOC, it covers wine and cheese but includes countries from around the world including the United States (Napa Valley wine) and Vietnam (fish sauce). Similarly, like AOC, the AOP designation revolves around the idea of terroir.

What are the differences between the two?

If you’re in France and looking to buy French products then there is practically no difference at all. The regulations on what can qualify as either AOC or AOP are so incredibly similar, you would have to deep dive into the subsections to find even a small difference.

AOC is French and AOP is European. So AOP also effectively ‘replaces’ AOC on a global scale as with Spain’s DOP and Italy’s DOCG.

Are they indicators of quality?

No. The label AOC or AOP on food and wine products only provides consumers with a guarantee of authenticity indicating that the product’s production has adhered with historical and traditional methods.

It doesn’t, however guarantee the skill of the producer, the heating process etc. For example, a wine labeled as Bordeaux AOC may use grapes grown on historical vines and on incredible soil but if the winemaker hasn’t done a good job, the wine won’t taste good.

What’s their main purpose then?

The AOC and AOP labels are there to provide consumers with a guarantee that they’re consuming authentic products. It’s a way to ensure that cheap copies can’t be and that other preservatives, flavour enhancers and other additives aren’t sneaked in and presented as the original product. It’s also a way to protect agricultural tradition and support regional economies and to overall protect France’s culinary history.

French Food and Wine AOC & AOP Examples

There are hundreds of French food products that currently have the AOC approval on their label. The majority are wines but in recent years spirits, pulses and honey have the AOC protection.

Wine

Currently there are over 300 French wines that can use the AOC designation on their labels. Famous wine making areas to have this include Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Chablis.

Cheese

There are over 40 cheeses with the AOC label including the first cheese to receive the designation, Roquefort. Other well known cheeses include Brie de Meaux, Gruyère and Morbier.

Bresse Chicken

One of the recent additions to the AOC designation list is the famous Bresse chicken. The most premium chicken to buy in France, Bresse chickens come from Burgundy and there are plenty of strict rules for a chicken to be an AOC Bresse chicken. For example, each chicken must be have at least 10m2 of outdoor space. The chickens must also have a strict diet which changes as they age.

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