How long is it before a product becomes traditional?
Some organizations have specified a minimum number of year after which a product can be defined as traditional: this may be 50, 30, or even 25 years.
Slow Food considers that in fact a simple number of years is not enough to guarantee that a product is traditional. Golden Delicious apples, for example, are grown around the world (from Chile to Europe and Australia) and account for 80% of world apple production. But this is not a traditional product because the link to a local community and area is much less important than the genetic component (i.e. the variety, which is everywhere the same because it is propagated from plant material and not seed). Yet this variety is a hundred years old and was selected at the beginning of the 20th century. The same situation applies to a vast number of commercial varieties of peaches, grapes, plums etc. which are at least fifty or sixty years old.
Slow Food answers this question by considering the collective memory of a community. To decide whether a product can be considered traditional you need to answer the following questions: “Does the product belong to local culture? Is the knowledge required to cultivate, process and consume it passed down through the generations?” You can find this out by approaching the oldest producers in the community and asking them whether the product was already cultivated or processed by their parents and grandparents.
One response is not enough. It is necessary to check whether it is a shared memory. Some pointers that may be helpful: “Has the product left traces in local artisan handwork? Are there any artisan implements (of wood, copper, stone, reeds) used to work or preserve that particular cheese, or collect and dry that fruit? Are there mortars and baskets to hold that cereal?” Or “Are there traces in the language, dialect or folk songs? Has the product influenced local architecture? Are there old mills, small stone huts perched on the mountainsides, dry stone walls?”.
In addition to older people, good people to ask are women, cooks, and food journalists, technical experts (agronomists, veterinarians, food technologists, etc.). It is also important to search the available literature: are there cookbooks? Books on festivals and local traditions? Catalogs of products?
It is essential to carry out cross checks by using as many sources of information as possible.