Friday, March 07, 2014

EU Wants U.S. to Cut Cheese Names

You just can't please the French when it comes to words and language.

The Académie française was established in 1635 to prevent English words and other barbarisms from entering the French language. They often dictate what words are allowed or not allowed, and will even replace words like "email" and "skyscraper" with "courriel" and "gratte-ciel."

While the Académie does not have any official powers, they're like your snooty, pretentious cousin who's always correcting everyone else's grammar and makes you want to punch him in his smug little face. When it comes to their snootiness about language, they can be a royal "emmerde" (pain in the ass) about it.

Now the Académie snootiness has spread to the "rond-de-cuirs" (pen pushers, bureaucrats) in the European Union (EU). They're complaining about the way American food makers sometimes use European regional names for their food products.

According to a story on National Public Radio, as the EU and the United States negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the EU has said they want the U.S. "to prohibit food makers here from using names with historical ties to Europe."

Kyle Cherek, host of the "Wisconsin Foodie" TV show, and possible Canadian spy, says the EU may have a point.

"Roquefort has to come from that region (of France)," he told NPR, because of the local fungus that gives cheese its sharp flavor. He also believes Lambic beer (beer made from cherries or raspberries) should only refer to beer that comes from the Pajottenland region of Belgium.

By Cherek way of thinking, all other fruit beers should just be called, well, fruit beer, which makes it sound stupid.

We already have issues like this with the whole sparkling white wine versus Champagne debate. Only sparkling white wine made in the Champagne region of northeast France can carry that designation. Anything made outside that region may not be called Champagne.

Now the EU is using the same Académie française logic — if it ain't made here, it ain't named here — and is going after our cheese under the"Appellation d'Origine Controlée" (Protected Designation of Origin). This is the EU regulation that lets French, Swiss, Dutch, and Italian regions protect their Brie, Gruyere, Gouda, and Parmesan names.

The cheese names we know may end up being renamed, despite 1) the fact that American cheese makers have spent a lot of money marketing those names, and 2) the First Amendment. The government can't tell American businesses what to call, or not call, their products.

(I honestly don't know if the First Amendment applies here, but I mention it because it makes me want to shout, "You can take my Brie when you pry it from my cold, gooey fingers.")

Telling American food makers they can no longer trade on the names they've spent decades and millions of dollars promoting seems rather unfair.

But if we don't comply? The EU have been making other trade agreements with other countries to block the sale of our own foods into their countries. They're basically "mean girling" us to our other trading partners.

"Like, OMG, you guys. I just heard that Austria told Germany who told Italy who told The Netherlands who told Spain that Portugal was taking Iceland to the dance, even though Iceland totally broke up with Belgium last month! Don't speak to Portugal for the rest of the week!"

A couple of years ago, according to the NPR story, a trade agreement between the EU and South Korea "banned the sale of U.S. feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola, and fontina to Korea." Similarly, Costa Rica will no longer allow the sale of American "provolone" or "Parmesan."

But what's good for the goose is not good for the gander ("Sauce bonne pour l'oie, n'est bonne pour le jars"). We can't ask for cheddar cheese to be protected under the same Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) rules, because Cheddar is not a region in Wisconsin.

In fact, it's a small village in Somerset, England, but because cheddar cheese is made all over the world, the EU is going to have a tougher time trying to slap it with a PDO designation.

But given the way we've already had to bend on the whole Champagne/sparkling white wine issue, I think we'll eventually have to start calling our favorite cheeses by other names.

But I'm not doing anything of the sort unless they take back Brussels sprouts.



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