EU demand: Americanize those cheese names

by Walter Olson on March 15, 2014

“As part of trade talks, the European Union wants to ban the use of European names like Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States.” Having achieved some success in negotiations with Canada and Central American nations, Europe may seek to restrict marketing of U.S.-made cheeses such as Asiago, fontina, Muenster, and Neufchatel.

And it may not be just cheese. Other products could include bologna, Black Forest ham, Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges and prosciutto, among other foods.

No word on renaming French fries. [AP]

{ 18 comments }

1 John Fembup 03.15.14 at 2:18 pm

Good thing there’s no “bossy” cheese, huh?

On the other hand, I wonder how many cows are named bossy? That name definitely needs to be banned.

2 Jack Olson 03.15.14 at 3:11 pm

The artist once again known as Prince signed a contract which stipulated that he could not use that name for any commercial purpose. So, he evaded this by billing himself as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” I suppose we could now start calling a certain kind of cheese “the cheese formerly known as Parmesan.” But, if we do, I suggest we also start referring to Europe as “the tourist destination formerly known as a continent.”

3 Slugger 03.15.14 at 4:26 pm

Why is this a bad thing? I recognize that trade dress, trademark, and other intellectual property issues are complex, but surely I can’t call my new band Rolling Stones. Labeling something Gorganzola that is made in New Jersey for instance is deceptive to me. I often don’t wear my special reading specs at the grocery store and do not feel I should have to. I bet that Coca-Cola will work to protect their product identity; people making ham in Parma do not strike me as having less to protect.
I am ok with Rolex knock-offs since people paying $5000 for a bauble deserve no protection.

4 ras 03.15.14 at 4:46 pm

Just slap “American Made” on the label and let the consumer decide if it’s a plus or a minus.

5 Boblipton 03.15.14 at 8:50 pm

I seem to recall other EU issues, including insisting that Welsh dragon sausage be renamed because it did not contain dragon, as well as occasional conniptions over what the Brits could call milk chocolate (cue Baby Oil jokes).

Bob

6 Bill Poser 03.16.14 at 12:51 am

Names like “feta” and “gorgonzola” are not brand names. They are names for types of food, often based on the region in which the type became prominent. There is, furthermore, a long history of such names being applied to similar products made in other regions, often by immigrants from the original place. What the EU is trying to do is to give the European sources an advantage based solely on geography, not on whether or not the product adheres to certain standards. That is unfair to long-established makers outside the country of origin. Furthermore, any legitimate interest the consumer might have in distinguishing between, say, feta made in Greece and feta made in the US, would be adequately served by mandatory labelling of the origin of the product. That is information that is desirable in any case as consumers can have a variety of reasons for choosing products from certain places, and tracking of food products from their point of orgigin to the market is highly desirable for public health reasons.

Limiting names to certain regions or countries of origin also provides a great deal of opportunity for political mischief. Just wait till Turkey decides to argue that feta cheese really originated in (what is now) Turkey, or until the Palestinian Authority claims that Israeli felafel cannot be called felafel, or until we get a huge fight over which beers can be called Pilsener.

7 JTW 03.16.14 at 5:39 am

The main thing here is that those names are protected by EU laws and regulations and not allowed to be used to market products that aren’t produced in those regions.
Hence in order to comply with existing EU law, the products can’t have the name of the protected products (like Parmesan cheese, which name can only be used for cheese created in the Parma region and from milk produced by cows in that region, or Champagne wine, which name can only be used for wine created in the Champagne region of France from grapes grown in that same region).

The only maybe slightly fishy thing is trying to get non-EU countries to abide by EU laws and regulations when dealing with products never intended for sale in the EU.

8 Hugo S. Cunningham 03.16.14 at 11:17 am

This EU regulation would serve to confuse American consumers like me, unless the “style” in “Feta-style” was written in much smaller type (together with an even smaller-type reference to EU geographical-origin law). Fortunately, it looks like America’s powerful farm lobby will block it.

9 Paul Veiguela 03.16.14 at 12:50 pm

The best lie is wrapped around a core of truth.” – -Michael Scott

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, says that, actually, it might not want to protect parmesan: In the recently-agreed Canada free-trade deal, an exemption was given to the English and French version of the word “parmesan”. The agreement does, however, demand protections for products labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” which the EU claims is named specifically after the cheese-making areas near Parma.

There are many product names that the EU accepts as generic: provolone, camembert, brie, cheddar, edam, emmental, gouda, mascarpone, mozzarella, pecorino, provolone, blue,” the commission said.

“We were disappointed to see media reports that we are looking to protect names such as cheddar, chorizo, prosciutto, ricotta, salami, kielbasa, chevre, bologna,  Greek yogurt, and prosciutto. This is simply wrong, as these are generic and are not protected within the EU.”

10 Jerry Vandesic 03.16.14 at 3:09 pm

How about products the originated in the US, say the hamburger, which despite being named after Hamburg, Germany, was invented in the US (some would say in Connecticut). Unless it is made in the US, those foreign burgers be required to be called simply “cooked meat patties and buns.”

11 Wfjag 03.16.14 at 5:10 pm

What should we call beer, which is a slightly Americanized version of the word “bier” that won’t upset Europeans? I know, we’ll call it “Budweiser.” What European could object to that?

12 farside 03.16.14 at 8:40 pm

Georgia’s state legislature passed the “Vidalia Onion Act of 1986″ which authorized a trademark for “Vidalia Onions” and limits the production area to Georgia or any subset as defined by the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture. The current definition includes:
The following thirteen counties: Emanuel, Candler, Treutlen, Bulloch, Wheeler, Montgomery, Evans, Tattnall, Toombs, Telfair, Jeff Davis, Appling, and Bacon.

In 1989, at the request of producers and handlers meeting the standards defined by Georgia law, the United States Department of Agriculture promulgated a Federal Marketing Order (CFR Title 7, Part 955) which defined the production area. wikipedia

13 Ron 03.17.14 at 9:41 am

Interesting article on FOX news regarding laws in Tennessee and law intriduced by congress to protect “Tennesse Whiskey” and “Bourbon” based on where and how it is made. Would this not be the same as EU trying to protect the quality/reputation of certain specialist products?

14 Ron 03.17.14 at 9:44 am
15 wfjag 03.17.14 at 12:35 pm

@Ron:

In contrast to Tennessee, other states are moving to broaden the opportunities for craft distilleries. Tom Fischer, bourbonblog.com, has run some stories on this. See, “Huber’s Startlight Distillery to Release Bourbon, Whiskey and More” (Dec. 10, 2013), as one example.

A change in Indiana law last year allows distilleries to produce spirits, including whiskey, bourbon, gin and vodka (formerly they were limited to brandy), to sell directly to consumers, and to offer samplings by the glass or bottle, in a manner similar to the way wineries and breweries have offered samples, as a method of marketing.

Tom has told me that there are now distilleries in every state producing craft bourbons. It resembles the major defense contractors who try to locate suppliers and vendors in every Congressional District, and so ensure that whenever their project comes up for review, there’s someone from home to lobby their Congressman or Congresswoman.

It might seem strange getting Tennessee Whiskey from Massachusetts, but we already get Salsa from New York City, so WTH.

16 Ron 03.17.14 at 4:00 pm

@wfjag

I wrote may comment quickly while on a break, so I was probably not as clear as I would have liked. So back to square one.

The point the EU is trying to make is that the products they want to protect are from specific regions which does play an important part in the final product. From the original article and the comments, what i get is that people seem to be think that this does not matter.

Take the ham, or prosciutto for example. To be more accurate, it should be referred to as prosciutto crudo, or dry cured ham. There are many different types, such as Parma and San Daniele from Italy and Serrano from Spain. Other countries, such as Austria and Switzerland, also have similar products. But they are all of different quality and taste. This is due to the ingredients and processing. Some use wild boar, some use farm raised pigs. The diet of these animals also plays a role in the final product. Then comes the curing process. In some areas the initial curing process is done using nitrites (either sodium or potassium), in other areas sea salt is used. The length of time the meat is cured and the environmental conditions also play a role.

When talking about cheeses. such as Gorgonzola, we refer to blue cheeses ( Roquefort and Blue Stilton are similar cheeses). These are produced by adding a mold (usually Penicillium) to the cheese. But here too there are many factors that lead to the final product. The type of cow and its diet plays a role in the milk used. Different producers add the mold at different stages. And the storage of the cheese while it is ripening plays a role as well.

Concerning different alcohols, the best example are probably sparkling wines and whiskey. Champagne comes from a distinct region in France. Germany (Prosecco) and Italy (Spumanti) have similar products. But the type of grape, the soil it is grown in, and the fermentation process all play a part in the final product. Whiskey is made from fermented grains and then aged in oak casks. The type of grain used plays a part in the final product, but more important is the aging process in the casks. Some use new casks that have been charred inside, some use old casks from wine producers. Scotch whiskey only comes from Scotland. The Irish produce Irish Whiskey. And there are many examples of each.

All of the products I listed above (prosciutto crudo, cheese, sparkling wine, whiskey) I consider generic products. But where and how they are made, including regional ingredients, play a big part in the final product. If I buy a “Parma” ham, I know what I am getting in Europe.

Bit of background…I spent the first 34 years of my life in Canada, have lived in the last 20 in Switzerland. When I go back to Canada for visits, I am quite often amused, and sometimes very disappointed, at the quality of some of the products that try to pass themselves off with the original regional names (compare Kraft Parmesan to the original and you will see what I mean). Not that they are all bad, some are actually quite good. But they are not the same as the “original”. So if you are making a good product, why would you name it after another good product that already exists. The only reason I can see is to confuse/mislead the consumer.

Back to the article I linked to. There are 2 quotes that struck me:

“A half-century ago, Congress declared bourbon a distinctive product of the United States. By law, bourbon must be made of a grain mix of at least 51 percent corn, distilled at less than 160 proof, have no additives except water to reduce the proof and be aged in new, charred white oak barrels.”

“If it isn’t fermented in Tennessee from mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof, it isn’t Tennessee whiskey.”

Seems to me that this is exactly what the EU is trying to get across. If it is not made in a certain way in a certain region, then it should not use the name.

What you wrote above re the craft breweries and states like Indiana changing their laws does not seem relevant to the discussion. All that is happening, in the case of Indiana for example, is that the laws are being changed to allow the distillers to produce generic products they were not allowed to produce before. If I wanted Tennessee Whiskey I would probably make sure what I got was from Tennessee. If I was a Massachusetts distiller, and I thought I was making a high quality product, I probably would not call it Tennessee Whiskey.

17 Turk 03.17.14 at 4:47 pm

@BillPoser:

Just wait till Turkey decides to argue that feta cheese really originated in (what is now) Turkey, or until the Palestinian Authority claims that Israeli felafel cannot be called felafel…

No, not the Palestinian Authority. It’s Lebanon that said it would sue Israel over felafel claims…or didn’t you know…

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3605773,00.html

18 wfjag 03.17.14 at 6:32 pm

@Ron:
I understood your meaning, even if I played with you some. My disagreement is with the EU and what is proposed in Tennessee, not with your point on quality (with which I agree). I pay less attention to a product’s generic name, than to the producer and ingredients. I’ve had slivovitz all over former Yugoslavia. It ranged from a light, almost transparent violet in color, and an exceptionally smooth and pleasant after dinner drink in Dubrovnik, to something in interior villages that was nearly as brown as molasses, which burned from when it first touched the tongue to where it exited about a day later, and about which I suspected that it had been aged in an old radiator. Kraft Parmesan is perfectly adequate if I’m just whipping up a meat sauce some afternoon. It is, clearly, not the same as cheeses generically identified as parmesan from northern Italy. And, from there, there is wide variance from excellent to some which IMO, are categorized as that if the smell doesn’t kill you, the cheese will.

For bourbons, there’s a basic formula, and a wide range for experimentation. As bourbonblog.com accurately reports, some of the craft distilleries are developing excellent products. The majors are responding to this with new product lines of their own. However, most will fail and be forgotten after their novelty wears off (e.g., How long do you expect “J.R. Ewing Bourbon” to last? Even Larry Hagman eventually had to dance with the Grim Reeper). With luck and some skill, American bourbons will become more like scotch. The dark, peat smoke flavors of the western islands are completely different from the highlands and east coast. That variety, from many distilleries, is much different than the products coming from a few major distillers (which was the case for bourbon until a few years ago, and for scotch a few decades ago). I believe that the majors in Kentucky will, like the majors in Scotland, continue to dominate the market in name recognition and volume for the foreseeable future. However, there will be room for niche distilleries and brands, and those of high quality will keep pressure on the majors to maintain and improve their product lines.

What the EU (and Tennessee) are proposing is a classic example of creating by law a monopoly or limitation on competition. Almost always, that results in fewer choices and products of declining quality. And, for that reason, I oppose such laws. I’m willing to take the time to check and see if my dried, cured ham is a Product of Italy (whatever the generic product name), rather than “Dried by Bud’s BBQ”. However, if Bud learns to use his Big Green Egg to properly cure ham, Italy will face some pressure to maintain or improve its quality. The result is that people like me will be the beneficiaries.

One final passing thought: I’ll leave the blue cheeses, whatever they are called, to you. I concede that mold is an ancient and honored aging and curing method. But, I cannot get past the idea that I could draw the fluids off and kill bacteria with the same and related molds. I try to keep my dinner and my prescriptions separate.

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