Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has launched a campaign to secure EU-protected status for the world-famous parmo.
The classic dish is a Hartlepool and Teesside favourite, and Mr Houchen has made it his aim to see it designated with European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.
His crusade to gain a stamp of authenticity for the dish, also known as a parmesan, was one of his election pledges.
The move may seem a bit of an odd one, not only because of the dish deriving its name from an Italian cheese (though it's more likely to feature only cheddar these days), and including the very French béchamel sauce.
Brexit may also seem to be a stumbling block in Mr Houchen's plans. But the mayor said the dish was invented here, and PDO status had the legs to continue even after the UK's departure from the European Union.
Mr Houchen said: “We need to officially protect the provenance of this local delicacy and must make it abundantly clear that the genuine article is only from Teesside.
“The parmo was invented on Teesside and should only be made on Teesside. Securing PDO status would mean that people would know they were getting the real deal when eating a parmo.”
He added “A PDO gives an elevated status to a product, which can be celebrated in local communities, at the same time as increasing business opportunities for local producers.
“The benefits of protected status are not lost through Brexit. The likely development of a UK scheme for protected food names will have the same advantages, and can be attached to future trade deals, including with the EU.”
Mr Houchen kick-started his campaign by writing to local businessman Geoff Johns, whose Jeff the Chef company supplies parmos to supermarkets nationwide.
Following his letter, Mr Houchen was invited to launch this initiative at the Jeff the Chef factory in Middlesbrough. At the company he met team members and tried his hand at making the Teesside delicacy, which happens to be one of his favourite meals.
A PDO applies to products, which must be produced, processed or prepared within a specific geographical area and have a reputation, features or qualities attributable to that location.
Mr Houchen said: “The majority of my work as Mayor is delivering an agenda that drives economic growth and increases prosperity. This involves tackling some really complex issues, from the future of our Airport to ensuring that our businesses can access the skills they need for future success.
“The parmo provides a more light-hearted and positive opportunity to really galvanise community interest and support, and to build local pride. It’s a key part of our local culture and we should be proud of Teesside and we should be proud of the things we produce.”
The parmo is regarded as being a Teesside culinary institution. It is believed that it was cooked up in 1958 by former soldier Nicos Harris at the American Grill restaurant he ran in Linthorpe Road.
If the parmo – flattened chicken breast dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, deep fried, and covered in béchamel sauce and melted cheese – gains PDO status it will rank alongside other well-known products and brands Melton Mowbray pork pies, parma ham and champagne.
Geoff Johns, Director of Jeff the Chef said: “Getting PDO status for the parmo will not only protect the reputation and quality of Teesside’s favourite delicacy, but add prestige to it as a product and raise its profile outside of our region, bringing in money and jobs. This is about pride in our area and that’s why we’re getting behind the mayor’s campaign.”