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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Hard cheese for Parmesan pretenders
Parmesan cheese
No anti-fermentative supplements, please
Authentic producers of Italy's famous Parmesan cheese should be protected from cheaper competitors, Europe's highest court has ruled.

Rules for authentic Parmesan
Cows are fed only with fresh fodder or hay
Made only once a day, with a blend of morning and evening milk
No anti-fermentative substances
Minimum of 12 months maturation
Only permitted additive is salt
Produced in Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Bologna province on left bank of Po, Mantua province on right bank of Po
The Consorzio di Parmigiano Reggiano, the official association of Parmesan producers, complained to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) a year ago that its brand name was being diluted by poor-quality imitations.

Hard cheese, often powdered or pasteurised, is sold around Europe under the Parmesan label, although the authentic product must fulfil a strict list of criteria.

According to the ECJ, this form of marketing must now cease throughout the European Union.

The case could set a precedent for a range of products with distinct local traditions and brand names, including champagne, sherry and feta cheese.

No free ride

Non-authentic manufacturers had hoped that the Parmesan brand had become sufficiently general to avoid monopolisation by one small group.

The Europe Court of Justice
European law leans in favour of the little guy
European law, too, although generally inclined in favour of local producers, has tended to offer loopholes to certain deserving exceptions.

Companies that have marketed non-authentic products in good faith for five years before the name was protected, for example, have the right to continue to do so for the next five years.

But the court ruled that this case did not merit an exception.

"It is far from clear that the designation 'Parmesan' has become generic," the court said.

Protect and preserve

"This decision is highly satisfying," said Italian Agriculture Minister Gianni Alemanno.

Parmesan cheese
No substitutes accepted
"This is an important decision that will help protection of the consumer and of typical national products."

The protection of traditional manufacturing methods - especially in food and drink - is a fiercely maintained facet of European law.

In 1992, the EU set up a so-called "Protected Designation of Origin" (PDO) scheme to protect unique products.

But while the PDO scheme is generally reckoned to be popular among Europeans, it has occasionally run into controversy outside the EU.

Some of Europe's trading partners see protection of traditions as a form of chauvinism by the back door, blocking competition in the name of culinary purity.

Californian, Australian and other wine makers, for example, grumble that, while they make sparkling wines of extremely high quality, they cannot charge high prices for them because the premium champagne name is reserved for a few French producers.

Dr Leo Bertozzi, Parmesan Association
"For the protection of the consumer, products imitating parmesan should have another name."
Tony Rich, Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company
"It's certainly a road all traditional chedder cheese makers would like to go down."
See also:

31 Jul 01 | Europe
25 Oct 00 | Europe
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