Cheese makers get ready to cause a stink

Cyprus has quietly crumbled to a Brussels ruling it can no longer call its feta cheese by that name, but local producers say they are not willing to go soft.

“There is nothing the government can do about the decision, we will have to change the feta name over the next five years,” Commerce Minister Rolandis was reacting to a European Commission decision on Monday that only the Greek version of the tangy white cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk can call itself feta.

“We had to do the same with Cyprus cognac and sherry. It’s up to the cheese producers to challenge the decision,” he said. All non-Greek feta producers now have five years to switch to another name, following a long fight by Athens to have its feta protected.

The commission rejected arguments advanced by French and Danish producers, who claimed the term feta had become generic.
It effectively grants the Greek cheese the kind of geographically-exclusive status already enjoyed by French champagne and Italian Parma ham.

Cypriot feta producers quickly said they were prepared to cause a stink. “We will not let it go just like that, we believe we have every right to claim it (feta) as well,” said Athos Pittas, the managing director of the island’s largest dairy producer, Pittas Diaries.

“We are Greek and have been making this cheese on Cyprus for over a hundred years, long before the Germans, French or Danes,” said Pittas, whose company is a major exporter to the British market.

Cyprus produces some 800 tons of the cheese worth some six million euros per year for the export and domestic markets.

Pittas said a legal challenge may be cheaper than re-branding his cheese, which is an essential ingredient in Greek and Greek-Cypriot cuisine. He added that he hoped the Greek-Cypriot community’s close relations with Greece would prompt Athens to consider granting it a loophole from the new EU ruling, allowing it to continue marketing its own version of the cheese with a slightly different spelling—fetta.

“We have a case and we look forward to the support of Greece. Cyprus feta is slightly different in the way it’s produced and we call it fetta with a double T,” he said.

The dairy industry of another major feta producer, Denmark, fears the ruling will cost it about 27-million euros and has also said it will appeal to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Three-quarters of the world’s feta is currently produced outside Greece, and 95% of the Greek cheese is consumed on the local market.

Pittas said he would move his feta operation to Greece as a last resort.

“We are confident of winning, but if everything fails we will go to Greece and make it. I’m not going to give them my business on a plate,” he said.

Cyprus itself has beaten off competition from Denmark to secure the right of its halloumi cheese to be an exclusive product of the island.

The rubbery cheese made from sheep or goats milk and best eaten grilled is already recognised as a purely Cypriot product in Britain, Greece, the United States and Canada. - Sapa-AFP

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