America Fires Its First Shot in the Great Cheese War of 2014
Will you remember where you were when the designer coats in the EU tried to take away your cheese?
Here’s what’s happening: The European Union has been slowly declaring that many familiar cheese names—like feta, Parmesan and Gorgonzola—connote more than smell, texture and flavor. They also tell you where a cheese is from. Feta, they say, is feta only if it is a brined sheep or goat milk cheese made in Greece. Not to bore you with the details, but years ago Greece got litigious against Denmark and made it stop claiming to make feta, and the EU is now exporting that battle to the Unites States—with a whole list of artisanal cheeses up for debate.
So powerful is this latest issue that the United States Senate paused for a moment of bipartisan agreement and is pushing back (insert your red state–blue cheese pun here). Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) have sent a strongly worded letter to the US Department of Agriculture saying, in part,
We urge you to make clear to your EU counterparts that the US will reject any proposal in the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations now underway that would restrict in any way the ability of US producers to use common cheese names.
Heavy stuff. Keep in mind that in addition to small-time artisans, the ruling would also disrupt powerful companies like Kraft.
Winemakers overseas, especially French ones, have been fighting this battle for a long time, protecting appellations like Champagne and arguing that buying so-called Champagne made anywhere else is akin to hitting Chinatown for a Louis bag. And in cases like Champers, they’ve won. Just so we’re all prepared, here are some humble suggestions to cheese makers so they can rename their products in a way that won’t create mass confusion in the dairy aisle.
Feta: Salty White Crumbles
Parmesan: Pasta Shavings
Pecorino: Fancy Pasta Shavings
Gorgonzola: Ugly Cheese
Fontina: Old Softie
Havarti: Sandwich Cheese Deluxe
Muenster: Monster (Imagine the awesome marketing campaign!)
But to paraphrase Charlton Heston, you can have my Gruyère when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.