There are no olive groves near by and you don't have a view of the Aegean Sea from the farmhouse, but the sheep's milk cheese produced by Judy Bell is called feta.

There are no olive groves near by and you don't have a view of the Aegean Sea from the farmhouse, but the sheep's milk cheese produced by Judy Bell is called feta. Or more correctly, since it is being made near Thirsk, it is called Yorkshire feta, as opposed to the more well-known Greek variety.

But despite the clear labelling and the obvious lack of Greek lettering on the packet, the future for Mrs' Bell's cheese is uncertain because, according to European Union regulations, it can no longer call itself feta.

The fate of Yorkshire feta, believed to be the only British-made cheese still using the name, is dependent on a court action which began yesterday in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The action, brought by the Danish and German governments on behalf of their native feta producers, is challenging the decision made by the European Commission in 2002 to give Greek feta "protected designation of origin" (PDO) status. That is the same status enjoyed by products such as French Champagne, Italian Parma ham or British Stilton, and forbids the use of the name by manufacturers not operating within a strictly defined geographical area and to certain standards.

The Danish and German governments and Mrs Bell, argue thay the term feta, literally denoting fresh cheese, doesn't relate to a specific geographical area.

Mrs Bell said: "It is not like Champagne, there is no place called feta and it is produced all over southern Europe. It is a generic term.'' Mrs Bell believes her business, Shepherds Purse Cheese, which employs about 20 people is being unfairly penalised..

She added: "Feta accounts for about 15 per cent of our business but it is an important part of the mix. And we have a number of farmers producing milk for us, so we are not the only ones affected.'' Mrs Bell does have the option of selling the cheese under a different name but would have to find something that does not resemble the word feta. "I could call it something like 'Yorkshire sheep's cheese,' but it's hardly catchy is it?''

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said "The UK's opposition is based on our belief that feta is a generic name and we oppose the registration. The situation is no different to other cheeses like cheddar, edam or gouda, which do not have PDO recognition.And we see no contradiction with the desire to protect the status of British products which do have PDO's.''

She said Britain was not being represented at the hearing because Germany and Denmark were presenting the arguments Britain would have advocated. "That's why we are not represented in person at the hearing "

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