WASHINGTON – Would Parmesan by any other name be as tasty atop your pasta? A ripening trade battle might put that to the test.
As part of trade talks, the European Union wants to ban the use of European names including Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States.
The argument is that the American-made cheeses are shadows of the original European varieties and cut into sales and identity of the European cheeses.
The Europeans say Parmesan should come only from Parma, Italy, not those familiar green cylinders that American companies sell. Feta should be only from Greece, even though feta isn’t a place. The EU argues it is so closely connected to Greece as to be identified as an inherently Greek product.
So, a little hard grated cheese for your pasta? It doesn’t have quite the same ring as Parmesan.
U.S. dairy producers, cheesemakers and food companies are fighting the idea, which they say would hurt the $4 billion domestic cheese industry and endlessly confuse consumers.
It’s really stunning that the Europeans are trying to claw back products made popular in other countries, says Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents U.S. dairy farmers.
The European Union would not say exactly what it is proposing – or even whether it will be discussed – this week as a new round of talks on an EU-United States free-trade agreement opens in Brussels.
European Commission spokesman Roger Waite would say only that the question is an important issue for the EU.