Montenegrin meat producers slicing into wider market, July 2018Montenegrin meat producers slicing into wider market, July 2018

06 July, 2018

Some 5,000 northern Montenegrin farmers still make the traditional dried beef Crnogorska Goveđa pršuta – a specialty which has long been a part of the country’s culinary repertoire. Adrovic Alimr from Petnjica is one such farmer.

He mostly sells the delicacy locally but Montenegrins visiting the area “usually buy three or four kilos to take back home,” he said.

Crnogorska Goveđa pršuta and Crnogorska Stelja, the Montenegrin dried and smoked sheep meat, are poised to receive geographical indication (GI) status, an origin-based label that can give high-quality food products more cachet with consumers.

This development is the result of work by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), with funding from Luxembourg, to upgrade food safety and quality standards in Montenegro’s meat sector.

To consumers, a GI label signals an origin-linked product of quality, authenticity and tradition. That label can also bump up a product’s sales price by 20 to 50 percent, according to a new FAO-EBRD study.

“We’ve found that consumers, spoiled for choice, are increasingly willing to pay higher prices for origin-linked products whose methods are certified by the state,” said Lisa Paglietti, an FAO economist.   

Adrovic, who is also president of the Association for the protection of the quality of meat from northern Montenegro, is confident the GI recognition will attract new buyers at home and abroad.

“Thanks to the GI, people buying Crnogorska Goveđa pršuta and Crnogorska Stelja know what to expect in terms of taste, texture and quality. These products have been made for generations using local breeds and local know-how, and are a proud part of our heritage,” he said.

“With the new flexibility measures on food safety, we can start processing these meats on our own farms now and getting them on to more supermarket shelves and into local hotels, cafes and restaurants,” he added.

The flexibility measures he’s talking about are part of new regulations – in line with European Union (EU) legislation – that help small-scale meat producers and producers of traditional meats comply with Montenegro’s new food hygiene requirements.

What’s in a name?

FAO and the EBRD worked closely with Montenegro’s public authorities, meat producers and other key stakeholders to develop and register the GIs.

Together they agreed on a code of practice that producers must respect in order to sell their products under the GI label – from designated production areas and methods to quality and safety standards and packaging.

Montenegrin dried beef, for example, must be made from the best cuts of fresh beef, salted with sea salt, smoked on beech and hornbeam trees and dried in northern Montenegro’s fresh mountain air. What’s more, the cattle must be fed a mostly grass-based diet.

The different processing phases give the meat its distinctive colour, consistency and texture, and prevent any bitter taste.

The process to produce Montenegrin smoked and dried sheep meat is similar; the specifications stipulate that at least 90 percent of the feed during the winter months must be grass-based fodder. And because the sheep are moved to mountain grazing pastures and meadows throughout the year, they are exposed to diverse and nutritious forage, deepening the flavour of the meat.  

It is also worth noting that both products have clearly-defined traceability systems to ensure proof of origin.

Preserving local heritage

The association, which currently boasts 15 small-scale meat producers, will be responsible for managing and promoting the two GIs.

Adrovic expects membership to grow once the GI registrations are finalized and EU registration gets under way – bringing more producers into the fold and increasing sales.  

“The GI registrations dovetail nicely with the government’s push to promote local gastronomy alongside tourism in the country’s mountainous regions,” said Emilie Vandecandelaere, an FAO agribusiness officer.

“As tourism grows, opportunities will open up for establishments to source high-quality local products, giving more visibility to the area’s rich food heritage,” she added. In fact, another FAO-EBRD project is helping to build links between Montenegro’s tourism and its food heritage, and this could bring tourists even closer to producers, allowing them to discover exactly how these traditional products are made.

The successful registration of these two new GIs is already paving the way for other GIs in the country, namely for two cheeses.  

And it could lead to even more GIs in the future given how deep Montenegro’s culinary heritage runs, as shown by an inventory produced by FAO and the EBRD of the country’s origin-linked foods and traditional specialties.  

According to Jaap Sprey, Head of the EBRD Resident Office in Montenegro, “GIs have become of high importance for farmers, consumers and policy-makers as they play a key role in helping the country preserve its rich food heritage while also raising producers’ incomes and driving economic growth.”

If examples from Italy and France are any indication, a successful GI not only creates jobs and helps supply chains become more inclusive and efficient, it also preserves local traditions and re-energizes rural economies.  

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EastAgri is supported by FAO, EBRD, and The World Bank