Italian food exports grew 7 per cent in 2015 to a record value of €36 billion, based on estimates by farmers’ association Coldiretti from data for the first ten months.
The real star was Pecorino, a hard, salty cheese made out of sheep’s milk, which saw a 23 per cent growth in sales to €165 million.
The major contribution came from the United States (increasing by 28 per cent), which is the main market for Pecorino, but positive results were also achieved in Europe (rising 22 per cent in the UK and 16 per cent in France).
Other export highlights were in Asia, where the Japanese market increased by 9 per cent, and the record was set by China with an increase of 500 per cent – although volumes remained relatively small compared with other markets.
Around 400,000 tonnes of sheep's milk is produced in Italy each year, while 67,000 tonnes of sheep's cheese are produced per year. For Pecorino Romano DOP alone, production amounts to about 25,000 tonnes, of which 60 per cent is exported.
Coldiretti points out that the result could have been even better, if serious enforcement actions were taken against imitations that take away sales from the original products. In the US, for example, more than 20.5 million kilograms of Pecorino Romano and similar varieties are produced, but they are not made from sheep's milk.
Despite being among the most targeted by counterfeiting, the cheese sector totalled €3.7 billion in exports in 2015 ( an increase of 6 per cent).
Wine was Italy’s leading food export with a record result of €5.4 billion, followed by fruits and vegetable with €4.7 billion, cheeses, olive oil (€1.4 billion) and pasta (€2.4 billion).