The Italian cheeses saga

09 February 2011

Licia Garotti, Linda Brugioni

As cheese is the final course of every traditional Italian lunch, 2010 ended with food law news regarding Italian cheeses.

Firstly, the European Committee for PDOs and PGIs finally approved the modification to the Technical Specification related to Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. These last modifications also include in such Specification the packaging and “grating” of the cheese in the geographical areas mentioned in the Specifications, i.e. Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantova.

The request, filed by the Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano, to include also such phases in the Technical Specification goes back to 2003, echoing the famous ruling of the ECJ (C – 469/00 Ravil SARL v Bellon Import SARL and Biraghi Spa).

In this case, the ECJ confirmed that those operations need to be carried out in a way which does not affect the organoleptic qualities expected in the product.

Should such requirement not be met, the quality and the reputation of the POD product may be harmed.

However, this “virtuous” face of the Italian food sector hides a dark side.

Coldiretti (Association of Farmers) complained against a Romanian company, in which, however, both the Italian Economy Development Ministry and Italian entities, members of the Consorzio di Tutela del Pecorino Romano (i.e. Consortium for the protection of the pecorino cheese) hold a minority shareholding. The matter at issue concerned the marketing of pecorino cheese by the Romanian company without complying with the PDO regulation, since it takes place in Romania, clearly outside the areas covered by the relevant Technical Specification.

Coldiretti pointed out that the production of cheese made of ewe’s milk (pecorino) in the Romanian dairy and marketed under the names, among others, of “Toscanella”, “Dolce Vita” and “Pecorino”, is not only infringing the European PDO regulation but also misled consumers on the geographical origin of the product: even if recalling the Italian sounding, such cheese is in fact manufactured in Romania.

The case raised harsh criticism because of the participation of the Italian Economy Development Ministry in the complaint Romanian company.

The initial efforts of the Italian Government for protecting national food products seem to be often overcome by business policies, outlining, once again, the dilemma between protection of quality and free movement of goods.