Georgia, an independent democratic country south of Russia, wants to be a global economic powerhouse—and it's hoping a classic dish may help brand the nation.
The country is running an ad campaign on American and European television sponsored by the Georgian National Investment Agency. The campaign, called "The winner is Georgia," is focused on attracting worldwide investors.
Now Georgia wants to trademark its national dish, khachapuri, a cheese-filled pastry that looks like a thinner, bigger version of the Italian calzone. That's right: it's staking its national reputation on a cheese pie.
The Georgian government plans to adopt the European Union's Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) trademark protection system, certifying that "agricultural products or foodstuffs are produced using location-specific ingredients and traditional processing methods."
The EU certification would enable it to protect and market not only khachapuri, but also suluguni, the pastry's primary ingredient, and tkemali, a sour plum sauce used as an accompaniment to traditional Georgian dishes.
The TSG trademark, if granted, would not prevent other countries from producing khachapui knock-offs, but the makers would be forbidden from naming the pastries "khachapui." Georgian agriculture minister Bakur Kvezereli told EurasiaNet that trademarking "may not produce an immediate benefit for Georgian farmers or the economy, but in the long run, it will help secure the good reputation of Georgian food."
The EU's trademark system offers a seal of approval for national foods. Consider what may have happened if trademark protection had been applied to Italy's pizza, Greece's spanakopita, or Thailand's Pad Thai.
Still, it would take bilateral agreements with countries to get them to respect Georgia's food trademarks if those countries are not members of the EU. Russia, for one, is unlikely to honor the trademark. Georgian agricultural products have been banned from that country since 2006.
The Georgian government has high hopes for striking an agreement with the United States "that would recognize trademarks for Georgia's organic fruit and vegetables, as well as for khachapuri." In fact, the Georgians would love to see khachapuri and Georgian wine gain popularity in the U.S.
Darra Goldstein, author of the book The Georgian Feast, agrees, telling EurasiaNet, "I have thought for years that someone should open khachapuri stands in the United States—they could be the next wave of designer pizzas."
It may be some time before khachapuri is as common as pretzel vendors and hot dog carts on the street corners of New York City—but Georgians can always dream.