Should American-Made Cheeses Be Able To Use European Names Like Parmesan?

Because the sun rose in the east today and will set in the west, it’s time to talk about cheese: Specifically, Parmesan cheese made in the United States. The European Union is setting up to fight to keep American-made cheese from having the right to be called Parmesan.

The EU has put European trade names like Parmesan, feta and Gruyere on the table during trade talks in Brussels right now, arguing that American-made cheeses shouldn’t bear those distinctions because they lack Euro lineage. For example, Parmesan cheese should come from Parma, Italy, and not out of a green can in your refrigerator.

And even though feta isn’t a place, that particular cheese should only bear the name if it comes from Greece. The EU says that because it “is so closely connected to Greece as to be identified as an inherently Greek product.”

U.S. cheeseheads — dairy producers, cheesemakers and the like — are fighting back, saying it would hurt our industry and create a tangled web of cheesy confusion for consumers. Heck, if it’s got the word “cheese” in it, I’ll be fine.

“It’s really stunning that the Europeans are trying to claw back products made popular in other countries,” Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents U.S. dairy farmers, tells the Associated Press.

There’s been no official name change proposal and it might not come up in the next round of talks, with the European Commission’s spokesman only saying that the cheese fight “is an important issue for the EU.”

There are already restrictions on cheese names in Canada and Central America, where feta products that are made in those countries have to be called “feta-like” or “feta-style” and can’t use any kind of Greek symbols.

Cheeses that could face a change if the EU get its way: Parmesan, Asiago, Gorgonzola, feta, fontina, grana, Gruyere, Muenster, Neufchatel and Romano.

Our politicians are hard at work to prevent this dairy catastrophe, with a bipartisan group of 55 senators writing U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week to ask them to not agree to any such cheese sanctions proposed by the EU.

The senators wrote that in some of their states, “many small- or medium-sized, family owned businesses could have their businesses unfairly restricted” and that export businesses could take a giant hit.

“Muenster is Muenster, no matter how you slice it,” he said, added Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

And besides, say other producers, there are European cheeses here because Europeans brought them here in the first place in days of yore. American companies claim they’ve made those products more profitable for everyone who makes them.

“We have invested years and years making these cheeses,” says the president of a Green Bay, Wis. company that made cheese with his family in Italy until he arrived on these shores in 1979. “You cannot stop the spreading of culture, especially in the global economy.”

And of course, we can’t help but wonder: What would Gene Parmesan do?

You can follow MBQ on Twitter and rest assured that she will discuss cheese-related items at least once per day if not (and usually) more: @marybethquirk

Europe wants its Parmesan back, seeks name change [Associated Press]

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