European Court decides there's no such thing as 'Yorkshire Feta'

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The Independent Online

"Yorkshire Feta", states the packaging, which is adorned by a picture of a large, woolly sheep from those parts. But Mrs Bell was coming to terms with a European Union decree yesterday that she must stop using the name "feta", which should be reserved exclusively for Greek producers.

The decree, made at the end of court proceedings in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, was not well received in Yorkshire, where the purveyors of another local cheese, Wensleydale, were told nine years ago that were not entitled to the same "protected designation of origin" (PDO) status that Greek producers are now earning.

"We always felt that because the Greeks are new members [of the EU] that they would need a little bit of encouragement like this," said Mrs Bell, a farmer's wife whose business, Shepherds Purse Cheese, produces a ton of feta each week at Thirsk, North Yorkshire.

Mrs Bell, who prides herself on using only ewe's milk to produce feta's particular, piquant flavour (Greeks producers are less fussy, she says) has been fighting the decision for five years. Her last hope lay in the court case, in which Denmark and Germany challenged a 2002 European Commission ruling which gave PDO status to feta made in certain parts of Greece, along with Parma ham, French champagne, and, in the UK, at least 25 products, including Shetland lamb, Whitstable oysters and Newcastle brown ale. (Yorkshire pudding is another product deemed too generic to qualify.)

The court battle hinged on whether feta - a word of Italian origin which translates as "fresh slice" - was so familiar it should be deemed a generic name available to all cheese producers making feta-style cheese, or whether it needed tougher legal protection to discourage imitators.

Since feta is believed to have been made in Greece for 6,000 years, Mrs Bell had her work cut out. But the Danes and Germans, who had significant domestic productions to protect, insisted their feta firms had been producing and exporting the cheese for years and that the name had become a generic term.

The judges decreed that feta was too closely associated with its acknowledged Greek roots. The special way of producing feta in Greece, including the extensive grazing and movement patterns of the small native breeds of hardy ewes and goats used in its manufacture, gave the finished product its own specific aroma and flavour and its "remarkable" international reputation, they said.

They rejected the argument that feta had by now become a generic term, adding: "The court finds that whilst white cheeses soaked in brine have been produced for a long time, not only in Greece but in various countries in the Balkans and the south-east of the Mediterranean basin, those cheeses are known in those countries under names other than 'feta'." Mrs Bell has until 2007 to remove the word from her distinctive yellow and green wax packaging - at a cost she estimates will be at least £10,000. "We'll slowly reduce its presence until the word is illegible and keep the word 'Yorkshire' high up," she said. "But customers will say 'Yorkshire cheese' - what's that?"

Protected food and drink


In 2003 Asda lost a battle to sell Parma ham that was packed and sliced in Britain. European judges in Luxembourg ruled the meat must be packed and sliced in Parma itself to be marketed with its original name.


Nuova Castelli, an Italian company, were told in 2002 that they could not label their dried grated cheese "Parmesan", despite the cheese originating from an Italian town near Parma. Nuova Castelli is not part of the Consorzio del Parmigiano-Reggiano, which owns the trademark.


Since 1998, West Country Farmhouse Cheddar has been protected. It is made with local milk, on the farm in Dorset, Somerset, Devon, or Cornwall, and turned by hand.


In 1998, Cornish clotted cream-makers won a battle with the European Commission to protect their product, meaning they have the exclusive right to call their cream "Cornish".


Only sparkling wine produced in its namesake region and adhering to strict standards may call itself champagne. Even the term 'méthode champenoise' is, as of this year, forbidden in favour of 'méthode traditionelle'.


Since 2000, Newcastle Brown Ale has been protected from imitations and cannot be brewed anywhere other than in the north-east of England.

Geneviève Roberts