Gorge rises over foreign Cheddar

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When is cheddar cheese really cheddar? Not when it's from Canada, New Zealand or Ireland, according to cheesemakers from the Somerset village of Cheddar Gorge.

Prompted by a recent European Union decision to grant regional distinctions to certain food products and beverages, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is appealing to the European courts to help it win recognition of the cheese's unique regional qualities.

Europe's decision to protect certain foods means that feta cheese can now only be made in Greece, while Danish mozzarella is set to become a thing of the past.

But Cheddar, the EU decided, had become so commonplace a term that it no longer held any true regional identity.

Newcastle Brown Ale and Rutland bitter, by contrast, were two British brands which had their regional qualities enshrined in European law.

It was a decision that dismayed the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, which has called in lawyers to help it investigate means of protecting its product. Mark White, the general manager, said: "We accept the cat is out of the bag and we don't expect to see it confined to our cheeses and banned anywhere else."

Mr White would like a similar convention to the one used by fine wines and champagnes to protect cheese. "A bottle of champagne and a supermarket plonk are both wines, but there's a world of difference between the two," he said.

Real cheddar has to be made from unpasteurised milk, with a full cloth, in the round, and is matured in air.

"It's in the mould," he explained. "Even a cheese from a few miles away can be different in flavour from the ones we produce here in Cheddar."

Mr White, whose Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company was founded in 1990 by a couple who feared that cheesemaking in the village was in danger of dying out, has won support for his campaign from Liberal Democrat MEP, Graham Watson.