During the past year, the United States and the European Union have been negotiating new trade agreements. I don’t profess to understand the ins and outs of trade negotiations… or anything dealing with our government (the rat ass bastards), for that matter… but one of the hiccups in the negotiations centers around the US manufacturers’ use of cheese names such as Parmesan, Cheddar and Feta.
The EU contends that some US manufacturers have bastardized the wonderful cheeses that the EU (and its member countries) have worked hard to protect. Starting with “Roquefort” in 1925, France has created a list of regulations regarding the manufacturing of certain cheeses (wines and other food stuffs are also protected). To be Roquefort, according to Wikipedia, the following regulations apply:
All milk used must be delivered at least 20 days after lambing has taken place.
The sheep must be on pasture, whenever possible, in an area including most of Aveyron and parts of neighboring départements. At least 3/4 of any grain or fodder fed must come from the area.
The milk must be whole, raw (not heated above 34 °C; 93.2 °F), and unfiltered except to remove macroscopic particles.
The addition of rennet must occur within 48 hours of milking.
The salting process must be performed using dry salt.
The whole process of maturation, cutting, packaging and refrigeration of the cheese must take place in the commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
In my 2015 Q&A’s with Cheese Professionals, one of the questions I posed was:
Should the US create a system similar to the European scheme of protecting, controlling and/or regulating specific cheeses?
Here are some of their thoughts on this hot-button issue:
Carlos Yescas: Founder, Lactography, Mexico City: Yes. However, I am totally bias here, since this is the topic of my doctoral dissertation. I believe that some cheeses could really benefit from protection; it would ensure that people would continue making them in the future and maintain quality over time.
President: No, because that is not our way, and because of the radical changes we have inflicted on our landscapes, we really don’t have small traditional agricultural areas to defend. I think we should be the pioneers, not the stodgy old protectors of bygone days. I do support the protection of cheeses like Feta, and Roquefort. They have hundreds of years of tradition, and these days, marketing can get us to forget ourselves, especially with the easy access to misinformation on the internet. (:
Emilio Mignucci: Vice President, DiBruno Brothers: I am not so sure that this is needed. I am encouraged by the inroads that the ACS is making with FDA in regards to the open lines of communication to set up the standards or “Best Practices” for cheese makers.
Let’s face the facts, all that any cheese maker wants to do is make great cheese and the FDA’s job is to make sure that these cheeses are safe for the public to eat. With these open lines of communications, ACS is having those conversations and the FDA is realizing that ACS is and should be looked at by them as a resource, as the subject matter experts! ACS has the needed expertise in the association, on the BoD, and with all of the relationships that they have among the Ag. Colleges and universities.
Ian Coggin, Sales Manager, Belton Cheese: We have a PDO for Traditional Creamy Lancashire made in the region with milk from the region and to the correct method and recipe. The UK is way behind mainland Europe on this with only a handful of cheeses protected.
Yes the USA should protect the cheeses that you value. However the most important thing is to make sure that the consumers understand what the accreditation means so they value it.
Kristin Sande ACS CCP™: I like the idea of regionalism, but I’m not sure how this would work since we are such a young country. Having designated areas, like the English cheddar region or DOP San Marzano tomato area is cool. It could bring agro-tourism and more layered economics to certain areas.
In the end, I think we need to ask how it benefits the
Natasha Manning: Division Cheese Specialist, King Soopers: I absolutely agree. This would translate the integrity of our cheese to the European theatre.
Robert Harrison: Western Regional Sales Manager, 34° Crackers: I don’t know that this is something that needs to happen in the US. Our artisan cheese makers tend to focus on making cheeses that are a unique expression of where they come from and who they are as craftsmen.
I do think that there are certain cases when the US cheese industry should respect the names and standards that exist outside of the US. A particular pet peeve for me is US-made “feta” cheese that is produced from cow’s milk. That product is not feta cheese and shouldn’t bear that name; it’s an insult to true feta. As for “Brie” and “Camembert”, we have almost certainly gone too far down that road at this point. I doubt that the industrial cheese industry in the US would allow such changes to ever take place. It’s not a battle worth fighting.
There really are a few cheeses that I think truly are problematic and that they tend to “lower the property value” of the originals. Some cases in point: Fontina, Romano, Asiago and “Parmesan”. These are all US copies/versions of European originals, and in every single case, they are dramatically inferior to those original cheeses. If I was a European cheese maker, I would be hopping mad about that, and rightfully so. I think there really should be some understanding that an Asiago that one buys at the supermarket in the dairy aisle is not at all the same thing as ages Asiago d’allevo from the Veneto region of Italy. Just as American-made sparkling wine can no longer be called Champagne and wine makers no longer use the generic term “Burgundy” to describe a wine blend, I think it would be reasonable to expect the same thing for some cheeses.
Sue Sturman: Director, Academie Opus Caseus: I’m on record against this concept. American cheese is NOT about terroir. The European system is about centuries-long, or even millenia-long traditions that are deeply connected to geography. The breed of animal thrived in particular conditions, and the cheese make technology made sense, and was driven by a geographical context. That is simply not the case in 21st century America….it’s not even the case for new cheeses being developed in Europe. We make mountain style cheeses in the plains of Wisconsin, and bloomy rinded cheeses in the mountains of Vermont. We make blue cheeses in places where there are no undergound grottoes. Why should we copy something onto our system that isn’t an expression of what we do?
Our cheeses are, above anything, an expression of our cheesemakers, who bring their passion, their education, and their imagination to the cheesemaking process. With modern technology we aren’t dependent on geography to determine what kind of cheese we make. I’m not saying that there is no terroir expressed in our cheeses, of course there is. But that’s just one element, and the terroir is one ‘ingredient’ of the final cheese.
Please click on the individual names above to checkout their bios.
My thanks to everyone participating in my 2015 Virtual Q&A with Cheese Professionals. I hope all of you, my loyal readers, are enjoying this as much as I am…
Interviews will continue throughout 2015… sometimes, they will be “stand-alone” and sometimes they will be presented as round-table discussions with several Cheese Professionals answering the same question. Those participating includeCheesemakers, ACS CCPs™, Cheesemongers and Cheese Professionals and Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.
List of 2015 Cheese Professionals.
List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.
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Taking the 2015 Exam? Please see my page on Tips for Studying for the Exam.