US cheeses are cheap imitations, says the European Union

US cheeses are cheap imitations and should not be sold using the names of well known European produce, such as Parmesan, Feta and Muenster, says the European Union. American Parmesan bears no resemblance to the real stuff regarding aroma, crust thickness and fat content, while the wannabe US Feta which is no more than insipid crumbles with added salt is a joke, say the Europeans.

The European Union wants to ban the use of European cheese names like Gruyere, Parmesan, Feta and Muenster. If US cheeses are mere shadows of their original European varieties, they should not be sold using well known, established European names.

As is the case with some wines, e.g. Champagne is only from one region in France, Feta should only be from Greece and Parmesan from Parma in Italy. Those green cylinders that are sold in the US bear absolutely no resemblance to Parmesan, say the Europeans.

According to the European Union (EU), Feta “is so closely connected to Greece as to be identified as an inherently Greek product.”

US cheesemakers against the proposal

American cheesemakers, dairy producers and food companies are adamantly against the proposal, saying that it would affect jobs, damage the $4 billion-a-year cheese industry and confuse shoppers. The Europeans say it is unethical and commercially unfair to trade inferior products by piggybacking on established names.

American cheeses
Original Pamesan cheese from Parma.

Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation says he is stunned that the EU even dares to try to regain products made popular in other countries. He ignores an important fact – the second-class copies are only popular in the US, in the rest of the world there is an overwhelming preference for the European produce.

Other regions accept EU proposal

The EU has managed to come to agreements in other parts of the world. In Central America and Canada, for example, certain cheese names are restricted unless they come from Europe. Feta cheese in Canada is marketed as feta-style or feta-like. Canadian produced feta like cheese cannot have Greek letters or symbols on the packaging.

The European Union proposes the that US cheeses have a restriction on the following names if they do not originate from Europe:

  • Asiago
  • Grogonzola
  • Feta
  • Fontina
  • Grana
  • Gruyère
  • Muenster
  • Neufchatel
  • Romano

What the EU is proposing to the US is no different to legislation that already exists in Europe and some other parts of the world. Within the European Union, since 2002, Feta has been a protected designation of origin product.

EU legislation stipulates that only cheeses made in a traditional way in some regions of Greece, and made from sheep’s milk, or a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk of the same area, may bear the name Feta. In other words, other non-Greek EU members cannot produce cheese and call it Feta. A German cheesemaker is not allowed to sell cheeses with the name Feta if it does not originate from the specified areas of Greece, but US food companies can.

Proposal may widen to other produce

If the Europeans have their way they will push for restrictions on other food products, including Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges, prosciutto, and Black Forest ham.

Fifty-five senators across the US political spectrum have written to Michael Froman, US Trade Representative, and Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, urging them to stand their ground and not agree to the EU proposals.

The senators say any changes to the current regulations would have a serious impact on many companies as well as exports.

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