The Grand Fromages in Brussels have decreed that German Feta producers can’t call their cheese ‘Feta’ anymore.
Whatever you call it, it's cheese
There’s a bit of a stench lingering about in German Feta circles these days and it’s got nothing to do with the cheese. Under new EU rules, German makers of the sheep and goat’s milk product can no longer call their cheese ‘Feta’. That right is now solely held by Greece.
The new regulations, agreed upon by the European Commission on Monday, state that only Feta produced in certain parts of Greece and according to traditional practices will be allowed to market itself as Feta, despite the fact that the same cheese has been produced legally in Germany since 1985.
It’s the latest twist in a European cheese-naming debacle and not the first time the EU has attempted to protect Greek Feta producers. In 1996, the European Union awarded Greece the sole right to market their product as ‘Feta’.
However three years later, the European Court of Justice overturned this ruling, after angry French, German and Danish makers of the cheese brought a case against the ruling. Now, the new regulations effectively return things back to the way they were.
The real big cheese
Authentic Greek Feta is made solely from sheep or from a specific ratio of sheep and goat’s milk.
According to rules detailed in the Greek Food and Beverages Code, the cheese must mature for over two months in chambers where the temperature and humidity is strictly controlled. Authentic Feta must also be free of preservatives and antibiotic substances.
These guidelines on correct Feta production predate by far any EU decisions on the matter: Archeologists have found evidence that the Greeks were making correctly named Feta as early as the time of Homer’s "Odyssey".
But German and Danish producers of the cheese are not ready to give up yet. Hans Bender of the Danish Dairy Board told DW-WORLD: "We’ve been expecting these new rules for quite some time so we’re not really surprised. We’ve been preparing for it."
Bender, who brought the initial 1996 case against the EU, called the new regulations "a nasty piece of mismanagement on the part of the European Commission."
"Feta Cheese has been produced in Denmark since the 1930’s and legally in Germany since 1985. We’ve exported it to many countries, including Greece and never received any complaints," Bender told DW-WORLD.
Erberhard Hetzler, a spokesperson for the German Dairy Association agreed. "In terms of taste, there is hardly any difference between Feta cheese produced in Greece and that produced in Germany or Denmark."
"We will take every possible legal step to overturn this," Hetzler said Work has already begun on a new case which Germany, Denmark and possibly also France, will bring before the European Court of Justice in December.
The end for German Feta?
But whatever the outcome of the case, as the rules stand now, all is not lost for German Feta. Although the new rules came into force on Monday, producers outside of Greece have five years in which to lay down their cheese-making paddles or begin to market their product under a different name.
Which begs the question: what on earth will they call it?