15 March 2009

Artigianale...or not

When is “homemade” not necessarily freshly made?

In Italy the term artiginale is generally used to denote products that are not made in an industrial fashion. This will mean both food and non-food related items. Outside of many cities there may be a Zona Industriale and a Zona Artiginale and the types of businesses you will find in each differ. For example outside of Ascoli Piceno in the Zona Industriale there is a large Barilla Pasta factory and a Pfizer Pharmaceuticals plant, these are large scale mechanized operations. The Zona Artiginale is reserved for small “mom & pop” type of operations where the owners are actively involved in the production process and the majority of the process is not mechanized.

You will also see the term artiginale used with food products, many times in small shops in touristy areas. The idea is to indicate that these products are produced on a small scale under the watchful eye of the proprietor and without the over processing of big industry. However, many people think this means the same as homemade, which is not always the case.

Truth in advertising is not a strong point in Italy and the label artiginale is no exception. A visitor will most likely run into this when enjoying gelato, one of the best things Italy has to offer. Many gelaterie will have colorful signs out front with the word artiginale but this sign is many times made by a gelato supplier, bearing the label of one of the many such suppliers. The gelato in the shop is only artiginale in the sense the owner has used a mix to make the gelato on site, verses buying pre-made bins. This is not the same as homemade gelato using only fresh ingredients.

So when you see the word artiginale do not be afraid to ask where and how it was made, whether you are buying gelato or a lovely painted ceramic dish. Buyer beware.

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