AOC is short for Appellation d'Origine Controlee, which refers to regulations established in France to define quality standards for products like cheese and wine and to tie the names of the products to specific geographic regions.
Types of cheese that meet the AOC standards will have an AOC. stamp on their rind or label.
For a cheese to get the AOC stamp of approval, the cheese must be made within a region that has been granted AOC status for that specific cheese and the cheese must be produced according to the legal standards for the cheese.
Standards for AOC Cheese
A cheese is defined by many things in France. This includes:
- type of milk used
- region where the milk comes from
- region where the cheese is made
- cheesemaking techniques and aging process
- overall composition of the cheese (such as type of rind and fat content)
- physical appearance (size and shape of the cheese)
- flavor profile and aroma
Why is Region Important?
One of the reasons that the place where the milk comes from and where the cheese is made matters is terroir. Terroir is mostly referenced when talking about wine, but it matters for cheese, too. Terroir can be translated as "land" and refers to the belief that the land where a product comes from affects the flavor of the wine or cheese or other food that is produced.
What the animals eat - grass, hay, flowers - and where that fodder comes from (high mountain pastures or low valleys) can affect the flavor of cow, goat and sheep milk. Because cheese can also be affected by ambient molds in the air, exactly where the cheese is made and aged matters, too. Another reason that place matters is tradition. Roquefort blue cheese has been made in the caves of Roquefort for centuries, and so will always be made in the caves of Roquefort in Southern France.
Why Must Food and Wine be Name Protected?
AOC standards exist to protect the quality and integrity of products. If you buy a wheel of epoisses, for example, you want to know that it will essentially always taste the same. If a cheese similar to epoisses is being made in the United States, that's fine, but it can't be called epoisses.
Other countries have similar regulations meant to protect the quality of food and wine. In Italy, it is called DOC (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata) when referring to food and DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) when referring to wine. In Spain, the regulations are called DO (Denominacion de Origen).