Friday, 18 March 2011

County name in a pickle

CAN there be a more ridiculous demonstration of the nonsense surrounding the non-county of Cumbria than today’s ruling that Cumberland sausage has been granted Protected Geographical Indication status under European law.
It says that Cumberland sausage has been successful in its bid to be made only in Cumbria.
Why? Cumberland means the traditional county North and West of Orton Scar.
Cumberland doesn’t mean Cumbria, which was an administrative county invented in 1974. It doesn’t include Westmorland, Lancashire North of the Sands or those bits of Yorkshire North Riding, like Sedbergh, that were nicked, to make Cumbria.
The Cumberland Sausage now ranks alongside the likes of Champagne, Parma ham and Greek feta cheese in having Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status under EU law. Other protected UK food and drink products include Cornish clotted cream and Stilton cheese.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the move would guarantee its heritage and be a major boost for Cumbria's butchers.
To display the PGI mark, the sausage must be produced, processed and prepared in Cumbria and have a meat content of at least 80%. Recipes vary from butcher to butcher, but must include seasoning and be sold in a long coil.
That may be good news for the customer, but it has nothing to do with geographical origin.
If any proof was needed, it comes in the distinctive shape of Peter Gott, of the Cumberland Sausage Association, who said: "This is a great milestone for the county and a well deserved place in England's food history for a truly sensational, diverse food product."
Peter of course is Westmorland through and through, with his farm near Endmoor south of Kendal.
Food minister Jim Paice carried on the confusion when he said: "We're justly proud of British food and I'm delighted to welcome traditional Cumberland sausage as the first of our many fine sausages to win protected status.
"This should be a significant boost to Cumbrian producers, who will now be able to prove that their product is the real thing."
He obviously cannot tell Cumberland from Cumbria, either.
Westmorland Sausages are just as good, if slightly different from, Cumberland Sausages. But today’s ruling makes no mention of them.
Now if someone wants to use a recipe for Cumbrian sausages, then they could be said to come from Cumbria. But Cumberland Sausages can’t come from Westmorland, Lancashire or Yorkshire.


  1. But it doesn't rank alongside, e.g. parma ham, which is PDO status - a far more rigorous designation. Anyway, a Cornish pastie can only be made in Cornwall - go back far enough and that didn't exist either. Sadly, the key word is 'traditional' - the cost of defending the word Cumberland would, I believe, have been too costly against the likes of ASDA and its mates. Not perfect but it's the harsh commercial realities of life.

  2. This reminds me of when the Today programme covered the news that the Oxford English Dictionary now defined Yorkshire as 'a former county'. The Barnsley poet Ian McMillan came on proclaiming that Yorkshire wasn't just a place now, it was a concept that transcended geography and the people of Yorkshire were rejoicing in the streets. The woman from the OED had no idea what to say to him.