Don’t Take Away My Parmesan!

Around here we buy and enjoy Dubliner cheese. It’s a parmigiano-style cheese made in Ireland that’s not as good as Argentine reggianito or the real parmigiano-reggiano, produced in Italy in Parma, Reggio-Emilia, and a few other designated areas but it’s widely available, half the price of the Argentine, and a quarter of the price of the Italian.

If the Europeans get their way Kraft and other American cheesemakers will no longer be able sell Parmesan cheese, execrable as what they sell under the name is:

More than half the members of the U.S. Senate rose in defense of American dairy last week, in what could be a sign of how hard it will be to forge a comprehensive trans-Atlantic trade deal.

The trouble comes from the European Union’s rules concerning “protected designations of origin” (PDO) and “protected geographical indications (PGI).” EU law allows producers of many foods—from Parmesan cheese to prosciutto—to apply for legal protection for the names of their products. The European Commission then decides whether a name has become generic or not and then how much protection a product deserves. So cheddar gets no protection but feta does. And to be prosciutto di Parma, your ham must not only be produced near that Italian city, but it must meet a host of requirements on how long it has been aged, what the pigs have been fed, and more.

I’m not convinced by the Europeans’ arguments. At some point doesn’t common usage obliterate protection? The list of common foods that include European place names in their names is enormous—Swiss cheese, hamburgers, wieners, just to name three—and those names have been common parlance for a century of more. Practically all common names for types of cheese are derived from place names, e.g. cheddar, roquefort, gruyere, cheshire, stilton. Even the name American cheese, now the name used to describe what I usually refer to as “American-type cheeselike food product” is derived from a place name.

5 comments… add one

  • Tim

    You forgot to put “food” in quotes, as in “cheese like “food” product,” but we’ll let that slide.

    I wonder what fraction of cheese sold as “Parmesan” meets the requirements. If it is a small minority, as it well might be, then it seems the barn. I doubt the Commission will see it that way, however.

  • PD Shaw

    I find place of origin restrictions to be pure protectionism.

  • ...

    I’m thinking this global trade and intellectual copyright thing have gone too far.

  • ...

    Somehow it reminds me of the Walt Disney Company suing preschools that have a picture of Mickey Mouse on the wall.

  • Andy

    I have a couple of guilty pleasures where I don’t accept substitutes. Cheese is one, real Maple Syrup is the other.

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