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Pasta police raid Italian restaurants

Rome, Oct. 15: Italy’s government is to send inspectors to Italian restaurants around Europe to determine whether they are really as Italian as they claim.

Restaurants that pass the test, by showing for example that they use genuine Italian products and that their pasta is not soggy but al dente, will be awarded a “certificate of authenticity”.

Italy’s agriculture minister, Gianni Alemanno, said many of the 60,000 so-called Italian restaurants worldwide — there are 25,000 in Europe — had no right to be called Italian at all. “Most have nothing Italian about them other than the name above the door or the tricolour flag outside,” he said.

The new scheme, which will cost the government £1 million, will go into effect from next year, starting with a pilot scheme in Belgium.

The ministry said it would be up to restaurants to ask for a certificate. They would then be checked. To be awarded a certificate, restaurants would have to satisfy a number of requirements.

These include the genuineness of menus, ingredients — for example that real Parmigiano cheese is used — cooking methods, service and layout of the premises.

The issuing of certificates, which will be valid for a fixed time, will be entrusted to outside bodies operating according to established international standards, a spokesman for the agriculture ministry said.

The scheme was designed to protect Italy’s name from imposters and creators of “counterfeit” food products, growth of which was keeping pace with the fast increase in the popularity of Italian cuisine abroad.

Italian restaurants worldwide have a turnover of an estimated £17.5 billion a year. “The stakes are huge,” Mr Alemanno said, adding that it was now time to “draw a line between what is really Italian from what is only mystification”.

He denied that because the scheme was voluntary, Italy’s “pasta police” would lack teeth. “Restaurants know the reality of business,” he added.

“This gives them a clear way to distinguish themselves. We’re aiming for 20 per cent of Italian restaurants around the world to sign up.”

Pinocchio record

Oscar-winning Roberto Benigni's new film Pinocchio has smashed Italian box office records for first weekend receipts, despite mixed reviews from the critics.

The live-action movie based on the classic tale of the mischievous boy-puppet, made 7.02 million euros this weekend, ripping past the previous record of 5.86 million euros set by Lord of the Rings, cinema agency AGIS said.

The film made by Miramax, a unit of the Walt Disney Co, was accompanied by an unprecedented marketing blitz that has left Italian billboards splattered with pictures of the impish Benigni.

AGIS said 1.15 million people saw Pinocchio, screened in a record 860 cinemas around Italy, against 947,400 spectators who paid to see Lord of the Rings on its first weekend outing last January.

Benigni, last seen in the Holocaust tragi-comedy Life is Beautiful, directed the new film and also played Pinocchio — a wooden puppet whose nose grows whenever he tells a lie.

The movie remains faithful to Carlo Collodi’s 19th century fairy tale and while some critics hailed it as an instant classic, others denounced it as dull and plodding.

The film is due to open in the United States at Christmas.

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