A Limburg specific pie has been granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the EU, registered as “Limburgse vlaai”.
1. Limburgese vlaai
Specific to the province of Limburg, extending over Belgium and the Netherlands, the registration of the pie describes it as an “abundantly filled baked sweet tart that is golden brown in colour and round in shape, with a rich variety of possible fillings and upper crust types that are both always baked together with the base”.
Limburgse Vlaai brings people together. It is a symbol of being together as a family on good and bad days. When we have something to celebrate or something to commiserate.Jo Brouns, Flemish Minister of Agriculture and Food, told The Brussels Times
The Limburgese vlaai also has to be round, varying in diameter from 10 to 30 cm and weighing between 140 g up to 1.4 kg due to its abundant filling, which can vary between “fruit, rice pudding, custard, semolina pudding, quark, sugar/egg filling or a combination thereof”.
The dough of the pie is made with yeast and is somewhat similar to a sweet bread dough. A special kind of mastery is required to ensure that even after rising and baking, the thickness of the base is not more than 1 cm. The dessert is always topped off either with a closed top, called “dekselvlaai”, a lattice top, called “reepvlaai” or a crumble, called “kruimelvlaai”. The first two may be sprinkled with sugar before baking, but regardless of the type, everything has to be baked together and no additional decorations are to be made once the vlaai comes out of the oven.
The exact origins of Limburgese vlaai are unknown, but there is a consensus that the pie was brought to the region, not invented locally. Some place its presence in Limburg as far back as the 12th century, while one of the oldest proofs of the popularity of the dessert in the province is a painting of famed renaissance painters Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
“Proverbs”, from 1559, depicts pies on a house’s rooftop, symbolizing the Dutch proverb “Their roof is covered with pies”, meaning they are rich. The vlaai was initially only for holidays or special occasions like weddings or festivals. It was considered a luxury product, explaining the proverb and why someone with a lot of pies was rich.
By the 20th century however, the popularity of the vlaai increased so much that bakeries started preparing it more regularly and became a regular Sunday treat rather than holiday only. Nowadays, bakeries prepare around 8 varieties of vlaai each day and up to 14 types during the weekend to fulfil each customer’s preferences.
3. Protected Geographical Indication
The EU geographical indication system includes three categories – PDO – protected designation of origin (food and wine), PGI – protected geographical indication (food and wine) and GI – geographical indication (spirit drinks), all of which protect the names of products that originate from specific regions and have specific qualities or enjoy a reputation linked to the production territory.
PGI specifically emphasises the relationship between the specific geographic region and the name of the product, where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. For most products, at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation takes place in the region. In the case of wine, this means that at least 85% of the grapes used have to come exclusively from the geographical area where the wine is actually made.
Examples of geographical indication protected products include: Kalamata olive oil (PDO), entirely produced in the region of Kalamata in Greece, using olive varieties from that area; Westfälischer Knochenschinken ham (PGI), produced in Westphalia using age-old techniques, but the meat used does not exclusively come from animals born and reared in that specific region of Germany; Irish Whiskey (GI), brewed, distilled and matured in Ireland since the 6th century, but the raw materials do not exclusively come from Ireland; and, of course, Champagne (PDO).