FORUM – What’s in a Name? Part 1

06 Aug 2001

On a recent airline flight I was provided with a small round of pasteurized process cheese. The words “PRINTED IN FRANCE,” in bold black Boecklin circled the orb arousing my curiosity. I read the fine print like I always do. In timid Times, I was informed, “Made in Wisconsin.” “Damn,” I said. How can the manufacturer intentionally mislead us like that? How can the airline offer such a product? Do they even know? or care? What about consumers? Do they really care? Shouldn’t we boycott such products and the people who sell them? But then, how do you boycott an airline at 30,000 ft.?

Cheese lovers have long since discovered that the vast majority of so-called and, at least honestly labeled, carrot colored American cheese is bland and tasteless. Most supermarkets offer a broad selection of this variety in individually wrapped slices. Presumably, you remove the plastic before eating, but I doubt that the taste would be altered significantly either way. Even less appetizing is a wildly popular cheese-like product, which was developed for wartime use for its perpetual shelf life. Because it must contain only 51% real cheese, it is labeled “cheese food”.

The same factories market tons of falsely labeled products called Swiss cheese tasting similar to American cheese. Without orange food coloring, it looks more like Emmenthaler. Like real Swiss, domestic swiss has holes. According to industry insiders, the holes are shirking to make the it more uniform! Switzerland seems to be the only country honored by having its name stolen by American marketers, at least for cheese. Wonder why we don’t we have French, Italian, English, Dutch, or Spanish Cheese produced in Wisconsin, Illinois and California, or do we? I hope to hell they don’t make an American Bra, a cheese named after a small town in Italy’s Piedmont, home to Slow Food. I can only imagine the jokes!

The reality, that, famous names with real value are being stolen and prostituted, is no joke. Generations of farmers, dairies, and trade associations have labored to build the fame and reputation of their cheeses. It Ìs tough, if not impossible, for small villages and regions to defend their trademarks against the budget of giant global producers. Often they never even try. Throughout our country, consumers make regular purchases of cheeses that they are led to believe are authentic. These are labeled Gorgonzola, for a city south of Milan known for production of classic blue cheese; Asiago, from the Italian Dolomites; and Parmesan, a cheese named for Parma, Italy. To further confuse the issue the best cheese of Parma is called Parmigiano-Reggiano. Parma and the surrounding region have produced gradeable cheese since the 8th Century, BC. The name was “lifted” in modern times. The largest selling American brand is even labeled “The original Parmesan.” They must mean the “original copy”?

Charles Finkel is one of the world’s leading authorities on beer and an active member of SF Seattle.

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