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Germany’s “Parmesan” Isn’t the Real Thing


When I was a kid, my dad used to tell stories of our Parisian cousin who would get noticably angry if anyone referred to non-French sparkling wine as “champagne.” I didn’t see what the big deal was at the time, but now I get it. It’s more than just truth in advertising, or the lack thereof, it’s about national identity. To many people, “champagne” is just another word for bubbly – but it’s more than that, it’s a region in France where the locals aren’t about to let anyone else claim ownership of their product. Most wine producers in the US stopped calling their sparkling wines “champagne” years ago, but – to my knowledge – Californian producers still justify their use of the word “champagne” because they’re using the French method. Yeah, I think that’s cheating, too.

Wine naturally leads to cheese, and cheating leads to more cheating – especially in this case. Apparently some cheese producers in Germany have been using the word “parmesan.” This isn’t just a cheeky move, it’s also in violation of an EU regulation “protecting the authenticity of quality food products.” This regulation dates back to 2002, when an opinion was issued that the word “parmesan” could only be used with regard to the real thing – Italy’s Parmigiano Reggiano.

Not content to find a new word for their cheese, Germany contends that “parmesan” has become a generic term for any grated cheese, not unlike “Kleenex” is a generic term for facial tissues and “Q-Tip” is a generic term for cotton swabs.

The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium has had to become increasingly assertive in defending its product’s name from improper use. So far it has been successful.

It scored a key legal victory five years ago when it managed to stop an American cheesemaker from using the Parmigiano tag on its grated cheese.

This was the fourth time in ten years that a US company had been forced to remove the label from its product.

Italy’s Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium thinks the court will once again rule in its favor in this most recent dispute with Germany.