It is hard to believe that for a people who thrive on calorie-laden pastas and pizzas, the Italians are also strong practitioners of one of the healthiest diets in the world – the Mediterranean diet.

Once exclusive to people living in countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea – such as Greece, France, Spain and Lebanon – this diet has gained traction in other parts of the world.

The Mediterranean diet encourages high consumption of legumes, cereals, vegetables and olive oil; moderate to high consumption of fish; moderate consumption of dairy products and wine; and low consumption of meat. In 2013, Unesco added the Mediterranean diet to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Greece, Cyprus, and Croatia.

Now, the Italians are looking to promote their healthy Mediterranean eating habits in the tropics via the Organicity Project.

Organised by Bioagricoop, an Italian non-profit organisation formed in 1984, the Organicity Project distributes organic products outside of Italy, spreading the gospel on the Mediterranean diet at the same time.

Bioagricoop president Riccardo Cozzo (left) and project assistant Carla Gambini hope that Organicity Project will encourage people to try the Mediterranean diet.

Bioagricoop president Riccardo Cozzo (left) and project assistant Carla Gambini hope that Organicity Project will encourage people to try the Mediterranean diet.

Insalata di Polipo ... or as we call it, Octopus Salad.

Insalata di Polipo … or as we call it, Octopus Salad.

Bioagricoop offers its expertise to support food operators that are part of the project. The group aims to increase global awareness on organic products and create links between producers and buyers, and producers and consumers.

Co-funded by the Italian Government with the help of the European Union, the project currently focuses on South-East Asian countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand. The three-year project, which ends in 2017, also aims to aid the future needs of South-East Asian markets for international organic certification and technical support for organic food production.

“We want everyone to finally get on board with this healthy way of living,” said Bioagri-coop president Riccardo Cozzo. He was in Kuala Lumpur at the “Discover Quality European Organic with Organicity” event organised by Berjaya University College of Hospitality with the support of Bocuse d’or Malaysia.

At the event, Cozzo and Bioagricoop project assistant Carla Gambini discussed the goals of the project.

“We want the Organicity Project to educate consumers on the various aspects of organic farming and encourage consumption of organic food based on the European organic certification. We hope it will motivate importers, distributors, and restaurateurs and alert them to the quality of Euro-pean organic products,” said Cozzo.

He also added that the Organicity Project helps small business owners from many different Italian regions.

“The organic business in Italy and Europe in general, is run by small and medium processing companies as they have the capability to follow the regulations pertaining to organic products.

“It is a more sustainable concept when you support the small businesses,” he added.

Chef Jochen Kern preparing a mushroom dish at the event.

Chef Jochen Kern preparing a mushroom dish at the event.

At the event was a display of products under the Bioagricoop group, which included organic extra virgin olive oil, wine and vinegar, cereal products, pasta, baked goods and sauces, cheese and meat. With 8,500 members, Bioagricoop has many products to select from and sell in Malaysia. Products from selected brands from the Organicity Project are available in Jaya Grocer at the Intermark, Kuala Lumpur but more products will be made available at other stores soon.

“We are promoting the Mediterranean diet, so of course we carry products that fall under that category. But we also have ready-made products like pesto, tomato sauces and pistachio and hazelnut cream, made following the traditional recipes and prepared with different organic ingredients. It also caters to vegan consumers and children,” said Gambini.

Michieletto makes a rustic and wholesome Rigatoni with Nero d Avola wine sauce using European organic ingredients.

Chef Federico Michieletto making a rustic and wholesome Rigatoni with Nero d’Avola wine sauce using European organic ingredients.

Project manager of Berjaya University College of Hospitality chef Jochen Kern and president of Bocuse d’or Malaysia chef Federico Michieletto prepared some dishes using the European certified organic products at the event.

Kern surprised guests when he used the 25-year-old balsamic vinegar (worth RM1,500 a bottle) from his larder to prepare portobello mushrooms with arugula salad and organic cheese. He also prepared Insalata di Polipo (octopus salad) using octopus from the Organicity Project.

“I was surprised at the quality of the octopus,” said Marini’s on 57 chef Michieletto. “It was really good.”

“I think it’s great that we can now use organic products with the Italian and European certification. You cannot find these products easily in Malaysia, but with the Organicity Project, we will have a bigger range of items to prepare more complex Italian dishes.”