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September 10, 2003 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Wisconsin cheese names in jeopardy The European Union is trying to impose restrictions (a la champagne) on what you can call certain cheeses that are produced in locations other than their 'native' region. Is this purely an economic ploy, or is there some merit behind it?
posted by pizzasub (39 comments total)

 
We'll always have Colby.
posted by rocketman at 8:16 AM on September 10, 2003


MSNBC might want to invest in a fact checker:
Wisconsin Congressman Mark Green says the E-U proposal would impose geographic copyrights on the names of foods which share the name of the region or city in which they originate.

It would be a trademark, not a copyright. It's cheese, not the new Radiohead CD.

And these names are so generic at this point I see little chance of this flying.
posted by Outlawyr at 8:21 AM on September 10, 2003


On the up side, nobody but America will be able to sell American cheese.
posted by kindall at 8:24 AM on September 10, 2003


Quibbling with the FPP, they aren't Wisconsin cheese names - that's the point.
From memory, I thought the EU had already come to some agreement internally that some names have become generic, for example Cheddar, but that other less household names should have some protection. It should be pointed out that restrictions apply within the EU as well as outside it, with implications for each member state. The US does have the potential to use this to protect the trademarks of its quality traditional foodstuffs. (Which I'm sure American contributors will be happy to remind us about)
A recent case confirmed that the law (as it is in the EU currently) can apply to processes (here too)as well as the actual foodstuff.
posted by biffa at 8:37 AM on September 10, 2003


So where is the Velveeta region? I'm planning a holiday as we speak....
posted by spilon at 8:45 AM on September 10, 2003


I'd be happy to see this put into place.
posted by FormlessOne at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2003


As with anything in agriculture, it's all an economic ploy. For example, the EU has fairly strict rules over how curved cucumbers and bananas are allowed to be -- the net result being that the crops from erstwhile colonies are preferred over crops from South America, thereby favoring EU-based agricorps over US-based agricorps.

Everybody has rules like this. Sometimes I'm amazed that food gets produced at all.
posted by aramaic at 8:48 AM on September 10, 2003


Anybody who actually cares about this - and I'll admit, I'd be in that group for cheese, at least - already knows that "feta" doesn't come from Milwaukee, no matter what the label tries to claim. If I want feta cheese, I just buy one of the several varieties actually produced in Greece that the grocery stores in my area carry, same as I would with brie, or havarti, or stilton, and avoid the American domestic versions. Maybe you have to be as addicted to cheese as I am, but you really can tell the difference, so just being a little more careful about what you buy solves the problem.

OTOH, I thought "sparkling wine" already was labeled so its origin was clear - it used to be that the varieties that are bottled in California from California grapes, even by the vineyards that are owned by French of Euro food conglomerates, said specifically "California champagne" on the label. Is that no longer the case? Or are Americans so illiterate they can't sound out "Kah-lee-FOR-nyuh" (insert inappropriate illegal immigrant joke here...)?
posted by JollyWanker at 9:02 AM on September 10, 2003


The European Commission's Cheese list:

Italy: Asiago, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Fontina, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano
France: Comte, Reblochon, Roquefort
Greece: Feta
Portugal: Queijo Sao Jorge
Spain: Manchego

(source)
posted by Ljubljana at 9:24 AM on September 10, 2003


My wife was a cheesemonger for a few years and one of the revelations of the reading material she tended to bring home was that Greece actually has to import Feta.

Parmigiano is perhaps the biggest thorn in the side for cheese lovers. After tasting the real thing, the insipid sawdust in green can just does not compare.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:31 AM on September 10, 2003


Maybe they're just getting jealous. from what i can see from the 2002 World Championship Cheese Contest (held biannually since 1958) New Zealand and Austrailia seem to be up and comers in the world cheese market, and my home state's artisans are ranking significantly better than the home regions of many of the cheese varieties. interesting stuff. moo.
posted by skatz at 9:42 AM on September 10, 2003


The point of the name is the cheese was first invented in that geographic area. It is an origin explanation. So when Wisconsin or California makes a cheese in that style, it is described as that style. This should be considered a point of pride for that region.

I know where the cheese is made. It has this sticker on it, and it says "Made in _____". Or is the EU planning to revolutionize the food labeling convention by insisting that feta cheese is cheese made only in Greece, when as pointed out, Greece imports feta). Imagine that, everyone in Greece looking for feta, but there isn't any because it's all imported from somewhere and now labeled as "crumbly, salty cheese".

Dumb.

Dumb.

Dumb.

And sparkling wine? Feh. It's champagne. Note the lack of a capital "C".

Snotty bastards.
posted by linux at 10:00 AM on September 10, 2003


As with anything in agriculture, it's all an economic ploy.

But not on the 'square cucumbers' basis. (Though the 'banana rule' is a good thing, since little Caribbean bananas taste much nicer than their mainland cousins, and generally aren't associated with corporate corruption and CIA-backed revolutions.)

Protected region status is a good thing, because it recognises the distinctiveness of the processes which originate and persist in those regions. You can't get away with 'Californian Bordeaux', so why 'Wisconsin Cheddar'? (The Aussies get around it by calling their 'Australian white burgundies' A.W.B.) It works both ways, too, though: you shouldn't be able to label something as 'Florida Orange Juice' unless the oranges have had the chance to go to Disney World.

I suppose the big difference is that the US basically has 'production areas' and 'consumption areas' for food, rather than the smaller-scale integration of living-space and growing-space. You get the Cheese State and the Potato(e) State and the Grain-Fed Hormone-Pumped Cow State and so on.

And sparkling wine? Feh. It's champagne.

Well, there's lame sparkling wines and there's bubbly méthode traditionelle wines, and they're different. A fizzy Lambrusco is a sparkling wine. Green Point or Lindaur definitely beat Cristal on everything except snob/bling value. But there are nice little small-scale producers in Champagne (without the global reach of Mumm or Moët) who deserve their props.

(By the way, the US still forbid the importation of unpasteurised cheese? If so, I pity American cheese-lovers. You're missing out.)
posted by riviera at 10:15 AM on September 10, 2003


It is hard. You just can't get a decent Camambert in the U.S.

There are one or two ok local varieties, but for the most part...
posted by Karmakaze at 10:25 AM on September 10, 2003


Protected region status is a good thing, because it recognises the distinctiveness of the processes which originate and persist in those regions.

I think it would make more sense to list a set of criteria that define the production and qualities of, say, Parmagiano Reggiano, and then apply that name to any cheese that meets the criteria, irrespective of where it comes from. I don't think the cows really care what political subdivision of the world they're in.

That, or allow any cheese/wine/etc that can pass a double-blind test to call itself Whatever. If experts can't reliably tell the difference between Parmagiano Reggiano and some really good Parmesan from Timbuktu, why should anyone else care?

Normal agricultural region naming stuff is like insisting that a German Shepherd Dog can't be a German Shepherd Dog unless it was whelped in the Federal Republic.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:31 AM on September 10, 2003


There's merit if you really care about cheese. Cheese is all about the animal whose milk will be used, what the animal
grazed on and how the cheese is made. Go from one location to the other and the cheese will be absolutely different and you can taste the difference. Of course, we're not talking about a factory that produces tons of cheese per week, with quality and process control everywhere to ensure that what comes out today tastes exactly like what was produced two weeks ago -- which is also something that has its own merit.

But don't call it Reblochon unless a certain type of cow has been grazing on a certain pasture in the French Alps, and the cow has been milked half-way first, and then milked again to obtain a naturally very creamy milk (a process called la rebloche, which was invented centuries ago in order to let farmer keep some of the milk that the authorities where robbing them of as a tax) that is processed with
local ferments (some of them being up litterally up in the air and can't be really captured) and aged with care an love in these mountain farm cellar that provide a unique temperature, humidity and pressure environment.

And don't even get me started with Feta. Real Feta cheese smells and tastes like the sheep whose milk was used for its
fabrication. You can't really accept anything else as Feta once you've tried the Real Thing.
posted by NewBornHippy at 10:41 AM on September 10, 2003


"layers of ash separate morning and evening milk"
A roommate of mine had a printout on the wall that started with the somewhat quixotic phrase above and ended with a dissertation about a historical record that would be formed of varieties of cheese. He told me he found it on a BBS somewhere in the early days. I'm sure someone knows where it is now.
linkage?
posted by leapfrog at 11:00 AM on September 10, 2003


In what sense is that phrase quixotic?
posted by Outlawyr at 11:04 AM on September 10, 2003


I don't think the cows really care what political subdivision of the world they're in.

NewBornHippy has said it in greater detail, but I'll just add: while the French can get a bit over-emphatic about the wonders of terroir -- the characteristics that place and process engrain in their products -- it's a very real thing. And it's something that American producers should embrace, too, if they're looking to emphasise the distinctive regional qualities of their products. (And yes, there's definitely a place for consistent, monitored large-scale production, too.) Vermont maple syrup, Georgia peaches... and I believe that Vidalia onions are federally protected too, aren't they?

Normal agricultural region naming stuff is like insisting that a German Shepherd Dog can't be a German Shepherd Dog unless it was whelped in the Federal Republic.

Well, it's more like insisting that a pedigree German Shepherd isn't bred from a dog that sort of looks Alsatian. And yeah, I agree that mongrels are great, too.
posted by riviera at 11:39 AM on September 10, 2003


I thought cheese came from the grocery store.
posted by LowDog at 12:05 PM on September 10, 2003


Make your own. That'll show 'em.
posted by ewagoner at 12:17 PM on September 10, 2003


"Wisconsin Cheese Names In jeopardy". If ever I release an album, this will be the title.
posted by Pericles at 12:18 PM on September 10, 2003


As long as I can still call my Cabot Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar, Cabot Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar then I don't really care one way or the other.

And I'm sure that all that will happen is that asiago will become something like aseago, pecorino becomes picorino and no one will give a damn.

So long as I can still get my Reggiano which really is far, far superior to the Kraft green can sawdust looking stuff.
posted by fenriq at 12:25 PM on September 10, 2003


NewBornHippy has said it in greater detail, but I'll just add: while the French can get a bit over-emphatic about the wonders of terroir -- the characteristics that place and process engrain in their products -- it's a very real thing.

Sure, but in cases where it actually matters, a similar cheese made elsewhere wouldn't be able to meet the qualities-of-the-product criteria that I mentioned. It would have the wrong pH, or the wrong mix of proteins, or have a rind that's too thick, or the wrong mix of trace elements, or whatever. Terroir isn't magic, it can't be the soaking up of some unquantifiable essence, it's just a mix of trace elements and soil conditions and all that jazz, all of which are at least potentially replicable somewhere else or in controlled settings.

If I can follow the right method and make a cheese that's chemically identical to Reblochon, or whose chemical properties fall inside whatever range acceptably defines Reblochon, then as far as I care, I've made Reblochon, irrespective of where on Earth or elsewhere my pasture is. Or, for that matter, if it falls into the output hopper of my nanotechnological cornucopia machine. The chemicals that make it up don't know or care or remember where they came from.

Well, it's more like insisting that a pedigree German Shepherd isn't bred from a dog that sort of looks Alsatian.

But I think that's wrong too -- if I breed two dogs together and get a dog that meets the breed standard for a German Shepherd Dog, then at the most real and fundamental level, it's a German Shepherd Dog irrespective of whether its parents were both champion GSD's, dogs that sort of look Alsatian, or, through a miracle of mutation, two Irish setters.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:35 PM on September 10, 2003


So long as I can still get my Reggiano which really is far, far superior to the Kraft green can sawdust looking stuff.

Agreement. Totally different planet of good.

Except that the green can sawdust looking stuff is, on occasion, exactly what's called for. If it's been a long, dismal day, and you want a plate of comfort-food pasketti instead of delicious pasta, you might want the sawdust. IYKWIMAITYD.

And the sawdust is good on popcorn, upon which I shall not waste my Reggiano.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:38 PM on September 10, 2003


At least the good old U.S. of A. will always have "American-Flavoured Cheese-Style Spread" that comes in a spray can.
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:53 PM on September 10, 2003


I think it would be kind of fun if the EU extended this concept to the term "French fries". That would kind of quandarize whoever came up with the Freedom fries thing.
posted by joaquim at 2:57 PM on September 10, 2003


I am Greek and Feta is like ambrosia to me, so I'll have to comment.

First, lemme clear up one thing: Greece does import feta as previously stated, mainly from Bulgaria or the Netherlands, for a couple of reasons: a) demand is huge, feta is by far the most popular cheese in Greece (actually most Greeks refer to it as "cheese", only using "feta" to distringuish it from another cheese; so when the wife says, "buy some cheese from the grocer" I know she doesn't mean Camambert, but feta specifically), b) since it's such a major staple, grocers do offer some cut-rate cheapo version, which is usually the imported stuff. Finally, even though we do import feta, it's not actually called feta most of the time and Greeks do feel strongly about that...

Anyways, this regulation gives a slight edge to local producers over large corporations and will at least help to protect the "brand" of each local cheese against over-production and lower-quality (for example, most of the feta I got when I lived in the US was horrible stuff, good only for crumbling over salad; that gives a bad name to the cheese).

At any rate, this is only weak protectionism; when a competitive producer tries to out-do the "traditional" product, they can do so with better quality. Look how Australian wine is kicking French (and Californian) wine's butt...

OT: I was shocked to discover on a recent trip to the US that Americans still don't know that feta isn't supposed to be salty. The brime is there to preserve the cheese, which otherwise would go bad very quickly. You're supposed to soak it in fresh water for a day or so before consumption. But you'd still need good feta to start with...
posted by costas at 3:08 PM on September 10, 2003


Americans still don't know that feta isn't supposed to be salty

What?! Next thing you'll be saying that blue cheese isn't supposed to be vaguely aqua.
posted by dness2 at 3:30 PM on September 10, 2003


more here "It is simply not acceptable that the EU cannot sell its genuine Italian Parma ham in Canada because the trademark 'Parma ham' is reserved for a ham produced in Canada."
posted by dabitch at 3:42 PM on September 10, 2003


Karmakaze, you can get non-pastuerized imports in the US.

Establish a relationship with a good cheesemonger, and, at some point when there aren't too many people around, casually ask about "farm fresh" imports.

I live in Los Angeles, and know of at least three places to get unpasteurized French imports, although none of them will even admit to having heard of such a thing if they don't know you. (It is against the law, and can cause severe issues with the local health department (not to mention the federal government).
posted by fnord23 at 4:09 PM on September 10, 2003


Having crisscrossed the US a few times I'll say that you guys have the sole rights to American, Swiss, Munster & Monterey Jack. And the canned/spray stuff.

But Roquefort comes from Roquefort. This is one of the best foods in the world. I may never own a Lamborghini but this is the taste equivalent. On one of these.
posted by i_cola at 4:24 PM on September 10, 2003


leapfrog: "layers of ash separate morning and evening milk"

This refers to the making of Morbier cheese, which has an interesting history:
The farms in this region are very remote. During severe winters the farmers couldn't deliver the milk to the cheese-dairy down in the village.

As the milk of a single herd wasn't enough to produce the big imposing Comté cheeses, the farmers started to make a smaller cheese of 8 to 10 kgs, adding the milk of the morning's and the evening's milking.

They curdled the morning's milk, put in a mould and covered it with a layer of ash taken from the cauldron to protect it.
That's how the famous black layer appeared.
In the evening the curds of the second milking finished the cheese..

Nowadays, the famous black stripe is made of charcoal.
You can see annotated pictures of the modern process ("a layer of vegetable charcoal is poured onto the cheese") here.

Another version of the story here, and it appears your roommate isn't the only one obsessed with that tagline (or is that his page?).
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:15 PM on September 10, 2003


I suspect I am definitely the only person who read the headline in the FPP and thought of this.
posted by nath at 7:25 PM on September 10, 2003


Scene: a cheese shop.

Customer: Greek Feta?
Owner: Uh, not as such.
C: Uuh, Gorgonzola?
O: No.
C: Parmesan?
O: No .
C: Mozzarella?
O: No.
C: Pippo Creme?
O: No.
C: Danish Fimboe?
O: No.
C: Czech sheep's milk?
O: No.
C: Venezuelan Beaver Cheese?
O: Not -today-, sir, no.
C: (pause) Aah, how about Cheddar?
O: Well, we don't get much call for it around here, sir.
C: Not much ca--It's the single most popular cheese in the world!

Really. How long could you read this thread and not think of this?
posted by SPrintF at 9:36 PM on September 10, 2003


I'd add Fontina to the list of real-cheeses-not-to-be-missed (I see it on the commission's list there). The real stuff from Val d'Aosta is an amazing, complex, nutty, funky cheese. The domestic imitation is bland white brick cheese, hardly worth putting on a burger.

And I've never had beaver cheese, but if you're ever in Venezuela, be sure to try queso de mano. Yummy. Does anyone know if other countries in Central or South America have queso de mano?
posted by boredomjockey at 10:08 PM on September 10, 2003


Having crisscrossed the US a few times I'll say that you guys have the sole rights to...Munster

WHHHHHAAAAAATTTT??? You think that the stinkiest cheese on God's earth is American? Though passing on sole rights to the Americans might seem a good idea at first sniff, it's actually French
posted by bifter at 1:53 AM on September 11, 2003


millens cheese is my favourite, extremely yummy!
posted by johnnyboy at 2:23 AM on September 11, 2003


The cheese thing may be interesting (as you can always get a politician from Wisconsin to spout off endlessly about his state's dairy production) but I'd be more interested in its effects on, for example, the beer industry, where Budweiser has been trying to bully the city of Budweis (in Czechoslovakia) into NOT USING ITS OWN NAME in beer.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:37 PM on September 11, 2003


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