Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Say Cheese

It's not all smiles in Europe as the food fight continues:

Parmesan or Parmigiano? The difference is lost on most consumers -- as long as lots of it is grated on some al dente pasta. At the European Union's highest court, however, food is politics -- and big business.

An adviser to the European Court of Justice said that Germany did not have to prosecute cheese producers who market some hard cheeses as ''Parmesan,'' even if it does not originate from Italy's fabled countryside around the city of Parma.

On the other hand, the same adviser said that Germany had failed to prove that Parmesan is a generic term different from the already-protected ''Parmigiano Reggiano'' wording.

It sets up a thrilling finale when the full Court of Justice will finally rule later this year on whether ''Parmesan'' can only be made by northern Italians or any cheesemaker in Europe.

At stake is gustatory nationalism that goes to the core of Italy's heart and stomach. On the other hand, it has an immediate effect on the pocketbooks of dairy giants in countries like Germany and Denmark.

Similar disputes are played out in national courts or even at the World Trade Organization, when it comes to cheeses such as Swiss Emmental or Greek feta.

While one side claims protection of a cultural heritage, the other calls it plain economic protectionism.

''The southern European member states want to use this regulation to turn back the time and they want to protect designations that have clearly become generic,'' said Joerg Rieke, the managing director of the German Milchindustrie dairy board. Since Germany produces some 10,000 tons of ''Parmesan'' a year, the economic factor is clear.

The Danes, one of the main parties in the fabled feta issue, support Germany in the court case and want more products that can be produced anywhere while using a name which they claim has become so common that its origins are no longer essential.

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