What are the AOCs and AOPs on France's Foods and Wine labels?

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman



The AOC and AOP labels.
The Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, AOC.  The Controlled Mark of Origin
The Appellation d'Origine Protégée, AOP.    The Protected Designation of Origin,

First, there was the French AOC, and now there is AOP as well.
However, for the consumer of French products nothing has changed.
It all began with grading wines.
The grading began, in 1855 and 1856. when the best wines of Bordeaux were grouped into five categories called Crus; the AOC designation came much later.  (A single cru is pronounced croo, the plural is crooz). The different crus graded the unique places where the grapes were grown along with the type of soil; then came, most importantly, the wine's popularity. The methods used in making the wine were not part of the rating and at that time, it was expected that the crus were divisions of quality that could and would be changed as a wine improved or failed to keep up its standards and public acceptance. However, since 1856 only one wine in Bordeaux has upgraded its status, none has ever been downgraded, and that does not make any sense for any group of products.  

The original rating system for a wine’s cru was linked to the public’s evaluation of taste.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case today.  Moreover, modern agricultural methods and viniculture have leveled the playing field for many wines. Today, a vintner may produce a fabulous wine from a vineyard in a fourth cru while another producer with a second cru vineyard may be producing a wine that would be labeled as a cheap plonk if it came from anywhere else. Far better than buying by the date or the cru on a bottle is a pocket wine guide to France or a good friend who knows his or her wines.

Later came food products.

An AOP label’s promise today

The AOP guarantees that every product is produced uniquely, in a clearly defined place. All the ingredients and additives, if any, are public knowledge. 

When did the AOC and AOP become legal labels?

Without a legal background, anyone and anything could be labeled as a wine's producer, and misrepresentation was rampant; the first French laws enacted in 1905 and 1919 gave the background to the AOC for wines. The years that followed saw other legislation that created an institution to inspect and control the allocation of the grades. In 1925 the first cheese to be awarded an AOC was the Roquefort sheep's cheese.
Camembert de Normandie AOP
Photograph courtesy of Fromage de Normandie

Following on laws that established the AOC in 1935 and 1936  came laws that created the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, the national institute for signs of origin and quality, known as INAO.  INAO is today responsible for the administration of all of France's government food and wine labels including AOC, AOP, Label Rouge, the red label,  IGP (the English language PGI)  and Agriculture Biologique, the AB organic farming label. The AOP became a legal label in 1992.
Many consumers around the world, and surprisingly that includes quite many French men, and women assume that the products carrying that AOC and AOP label have been recently tested for both quality and taste. Though, who did the tasting for the Foin de or Crau AOC, which is a hay grown for animals and the Huile Essentielle de Lavande AOC, an essential lavender oil, used in aromatherapy has never been questioned.

For the consumer there is no difference between a
French product with an AOC or an AOP.

The French AOC and AOP regulations are so close to each other that we the consumers will notice no difference at all.  In one single case, there was a battle over who would own the AOP for a product.  Switzerland is associated with but is not a member of the European Union and after a court battle won the right to place an AOP on Gruyere cheese, France was left with an IGP for its own Gruyere.
The AOP, with a few minor changes, covers and replaces France's AOC, as it has Portugal’s DDOS, Spain’s DOP, and Italy’s DOCG, etc.  All the AOP regulations within the European Union and Switzerland are exactly the same.
The first French grade of beef cattle to have been awarded an AOC, now an AOP, for the constant and superior quality and also the taste of the beef was the Taureau de Camargue.  None of these animals will have been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. All the young animals must be raised by their mothers until they are weaned.
You, the diner, will not notice any differences in taste, color or texture between any product that held a French AOC and now has an AOP.  The AOP and PGI labels have ended the European label wars. Confusion in names has ended. When before there was a Swiss AOC Gruyere and a French AOC Gruyere there is now a Swiss AOP Gruyere and a French IGP Gruyere.  Wherever you travel with the European Union and Switzerland, the AOP includes the same regulations and controls.
How do I choose a wine?
For the separate post that covers French wines with an AOC/AOP, an IGP and or a Vins de France label click here.
I recommend that travelers in France use one of the excellent English language (up-to-date) pocketbooks on wines.  You do not need a wine tasting course before you leave though it might help. With a book for the local wines on hand, you will be respected in a wine store or by a sommelier in a restaurant. They will, hopefully, not try to get rid of old stock on someone who can clearly check what is being sold. The AOC and AOP labels do not control the taste and caveat emptor, while the AOC/AOP controls how a product was made it cannot control how it was stored or cooked. There are nearly 400 named French AOP wines and over 40,000 producers,

Unfortunately, since 1935 with two exceptions no AOC wine has had its rating changed, one went up.

Products that have received an  AOC award since the1950s have been held to higher standards. Now there are organoleptic tests for taste and smell; however, stripping a product of its French AOC, once it has been awarded is unheard of. 

Since the first AOC was first granted some one-hundred years ago, not a single wine has been taken off the list.  Listen to friends, listen to the sommelier, and read what the books say. Remember, that for wines storage is very very important and for food products storage and cooking is paramount.
Products and produce with an AOC/AOP

Over 350 wines
Forty-six cheeses including AbondanceBanon, Beaufort,  Bleu d'Auvergne, Bleu de Causses,  Bleu de Gex, Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage, Brie de MelunBrie de Meaux, Brocciu, Camembert , Cantal AOCChabichou du Poitou, Charolais, Chevrotin, Chaource AOCComte AOCCrottin de ChavignolÉpoisses, Fourme d'Ambert, Fourme de Montbrison Le Chambérat, Laguiole , Langres, LivarotMâconnais, Maroilles, Mont-d'Or,   Pelardon,  Maroilles AOPMorbier, Munster AOC, NeufchatelOssau-Iraty, Pelardon des Cévennes,  Picodon,  Pont-l'Évêque, Pouligny Saint-Pierre, Reblochon, Rigotte de Condrieu Rocamadour, Roquefort,  Saint NectaireSainte-Maure de Touraine,  Salers, Sassenage, Selles sur Cher,  Tome des Bauges,  and Valençay AOP.

One fresh cream,

Two grape brandies, Cognac and Armagnac, one Apple brandy Calvados, (Calvados is really two different apple brandies and one pear and apple brandy) that all come from the French mainland.  One type of Rum.
A limited number of fruits and vegetables including two magnificent table grapes, the Muscat du Ventoux grapes, and the Raisin Chasselas de Moissac AOC

One special herb, the Garlic from Cadour.
Some truly special poultry, the Volaille de Bresse.
Two strains of lamb the Prés-salés de la Baie de Somme AOC and the Prés-salés du Mont-Saint-Michel AOC
One unique small, farmed mussel, the Moules de Bouchots de la Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel.
and more.
How a product receives an AOP in France today.
Following on the award of a French AOC, another committee made up of representatives including those from other European countries check the approval process for an AOP.  That procedure involves many steps and many inspections and controls. To be awarded an AOC and an AOP is a process that can take years.
Pay’s d’Auge Cider AOP
The use of the AOP  label on French AOC products
As with all changes, not everyone is happy. The existing French AOC holders, along with products with similar ratings from other countries, were grandfathered in and received their AOPs without any new inspections or controls. That includes the wines that have not been rated in the last 50 to 150 years.   For the producers, the holders of the French issued AOP offers the added value of an accepted accreditation across the European Union’s 28 member states,
If you are a French farmer, cheese maker, vintner or producer of products that have the right to use the initials AOP, then you are practically made for life.  That same bankable value is the target for all those waiting for approval of an AOP.  
The AOP label and logo.
The same AOP logo in the same color and design is used throughout the whole European Union. The label is available in French, English, Italian, and German; no doubt other languages will be added later.

The French language Appellation d'Origine Protégée
The English language Protected Designation of Origin
The Italian language Denominazione di Origine Protetta.
The  German language Geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung.
The AOP is still a work in progress with some of the newest members of the EU as they upgrade their production method and must keep the same standards.  One of the most significant areas growth areas is in organic agriculture and livestock. For more on organic agriculture and products in France click here. For more about France's new wine labels that include the AOP, the wine IGP, and the Vin de France click here
The violet colored garlic of Cadours.
Photograph courtesy of Ail Violet de Cadours    
An AOP genuinely points the way to a unique product. But...

How will the European Union deal with products that have never been tested in the last 50 or 100 years?  How do you know if a product has been properly stored? How do you know when a good product has been badly cooked? An AOC and AOP guarantees that the product is unique but when you are seated at the table, only you may decide on the taste, and it was worth the price you paid for it.
Bon Appétit.


Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman




Copyright 2010, 2013, 2015, 2019.


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I’m delighted with this information, where such important moments are captured. All the best!


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