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article imageEurope, US at odds over cheese names

By Joe Duarte     Mar 12, 2014 in Food
Arlington - What’s in a name? Apparently plenty, if it’s a cheese name. The European Union (EU) is apparently readying marketing restrictions on the names of cheeses it deems as indicative of European regions and/or cultures.
Parmesan, or more appropriately the Italian original Parmigiano, literally means “from Parma” — the Italian province from which the cheese originates (and whose production is traced back to the middle ages) — although it is now made in other regions, countries and continents. Similarly, Limburger has its origins in the ancient Roman Duchy of Limbourg (a region that is now part of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands).
The EU has set up a registry of designations for certain products (cheeses, wines, sausages, etc.), some of which can only be so named if they are produced in a certain region, and Parmesan is one of those protected under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) seal. As such, in Europe, only cheeses made in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantova are allowed to carry the label Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The PDO seal is awarded to products that are entirely prepared, processed AND produced within the specific region. Besides Parmesan cheese, other products include Camembert, Champagne and the Melton Mowbray pork pie.
The seal is sometimes awarded to products that aren’t produced in a specific region but are attributable to a certain culture. An example is Feta cheese, which can only be named that if it is produced in Greece from sheep’s milk using traditional processes. An Associated Press story claims the EU considers Feta “so closely connected to Greece as to be identified as an inherently Greek product.”
The EU reportedly wants to enforce its designations as part of renegotiations of a free-trade agreement with the United States. It claims the use of certain names dilutes the premium value and heritage of the authentic products.
The concern to Americans, or specifically those with investments in marketing those products, is the fear that limiting name options might create consumer confusion and may financially harm American producers. Some argue that Parmesan grew to prominence due to Kraft’s marketing in the U.S., and are concerned that the restrictions might extend to other products, such as Black Forest ham, Greek yogurt and Valencia oranges, to name a few.
Parmesan seems to be the poster boy for the cheese-name fight, thanks to Kraft’s use of the name in its grated cheese containers, even thought the product includes ingredients that exclude it from the EU definition of Parmesan. In Europe, ironically, Kraft markets its product as Parmesello in order to conform to the EU regulations.
The EU also awards other seals, such as the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) to products that are traditionally and at least partially prepared, processed OR produced within specific regions, and the Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG) seal to foods of “specific character” or produced or processed in a traditional manner or from traditional raw materials.
More about Kraft, grated cheese, parmesan cheese
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