American cheesemakers may have to rename some of their cheeses if the forthcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) proceeds as planned. But in an act of defiance that recalls the upright sense of purpose and fortitude that gave birth to this great nation, Connecticut lawmakers are fighting for the right to make Gorgonzola and Asiago right here in the USA.
The trade partnership agreement, which is expected to be finalized toward the end of the decade, includes language to prevent cheeses that are not made in particular regions of Europe from being labeled with specific names, like feta.
Feta, Asiago, and Gorgonzola are protected designation of origin (PDO) products, meaning that within the European Union, cheeses are only allowed to be sold as feta, Asiago, or Gorgonzola if they are produced in specific geographic areas according to traditional methods. Some of the best-known protected products include Parmesan and Champagne, but everything from Prosciutto di Parma to Cognac to Roquefort are protected, too. With the TTIP, the European Union wants to extend the PDO status of its agricultural products to the US.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy pulled together a group of lawmakers to object to the labeling laws. In a letter to the US Trade Representative and the Secretary of Agriculture, they estimate the restrictions could cost the American cheese industry $4.2 billion a year, and would put American cheeses at a disadvantage in export markets. Currently, $21 billion worth of American cheese bears European-origin names. The letter also warns that the agreement would threaten meat and wine produced in America that use well-known European names.
And hey, we make some damn fine cheese here in America.
"Cheeses made in our home state of Connecticut are equally as good (as) those made in Europe; we would argue that in many cases they're even better," they write. Connecticut has a cheese trail if you want to see for yourself.
"Unfairly restricting labels for cheeses like Asiago just because it isn't made in Asiago, Italy, makes no sense," the delegation said. "Locally-produced cheese, dairy and other products are in high demand, and international trade negotiations shouldn't be the reason why Connecticut farmers all of a sudden can't sell certain types of popular, well-recognized products."
Although the delegation may be headed up by a Connecticut senator, the Senator from the little state of Connecticut has got all of America's cheesemakers in mind. But without a doubt, cheesemaking is on the rise in Connecticut, with the New York Times highlighting local makers like Mystic Cheese and Oak Leaf Dairy last year.
And given the recent example of the UConn student who got arrested after a confrontation with a food court manager who wouldn't give him any bacon-jalapeño mac and cheese, we know how dead serious cheese can be in The Constitution State. At least Senator Murphy's fight over cheese is one we can get behind.