The proposal, part of ongoing E.U./U.S. trade talks, would ban American cheese makers from using terms like parmesan, asiago, feta, gruyere, gorgonzola, fontina, romano and others that refer to European regions from which those cheeses originate. Domestic cheese producers would be forced to drop those names and rebrand their products, potentially ceding a major edge to their European competitors in booming international markets like Asia.
"It's a clever trade barrier," says John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. "There would be a lot of uphill work to do for cheese makers to convince consumers that their 'salty white cheese in brine' is feta. They would have to market it all over again."
The widespread usage of European names has been an issue since the mid-1990s, when the E.U. released its geographical indication registry, which sought to restrict some category names to the regions most associated with them, like Scotland and Scotch whisky or France's Champagne region for the eponymous sparkling wine. In 2012 the E.U. further shored up its exclusive claim to certain foods when it signed a free trade agreement with South Korea that blocked feta cheese made outside of Greece and asiago, fontina and gorgonzola made outside of Italy from being sold in South Korea.
Faced with the EU's feta complis, how should one react? I like to think I'm as assimilated as any immigrant, but I'm disinclined to man the barricades on behalf of American cheese. Er, make that "cheese". Everyone - not least the litigious Khurrum Awan, Mohammed Elmasry and the Canadian Islamic Congress - thinks my book America Alone, personally autographed copies of which are available exclusively from the SteynOnline bookstore, he pleads pitifully ...where was I? Oh, yeah. Everyone thinks America Alone is about Islam and demography, but in fact it has a whole section in it on cheese, called "The Pasteurization is Prologue". Page 181:
I've never subscribed to that whole "cheese-eating surrender-monkey" sneer promoted by my National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg. As a neocon warmonger, I yield to no one in my contempt for the French, but, that said, cheese-wise I feel they have the edge.
When I'm at the lunch counter in America and I order a cheeseburger and the waitress says, "American, Swiss or Cheddar?" I can't tell the difference. They all taste of nothing. The only difference is that the slice of alleged Swiss is full of holes, so you're getting less nothing for your buck. Then again, the holes also taste of nothing, and they're less fattening. But, either way, cheese is not the battleground on which to demonstrate the superiority of the American way.
Most of the American cheeses bearing European names are bland rubbery eunuch versions of the real thing. I wouldn't mind if this were merely the market at work, but it's not. It's the result of Big Government, of the Brieatollahs at the United States Department of Agriculture:
In America, unpasteurized un-aged raw cheese that would be standard in any Continental fromagerie is banned. Americans, so zealous in defense of their liberties when it comes to guns, are happy to roll over for the nanny state when it comes to the cheese board... The French may be surrender monkeys on the battlefield, but they don't throw their hands up and flee in terror just because the Brie's a bit ripe. It's the Americans who are the cheese-surrendering eating-monkeys - who insist, oh, no, the only way to deal with this sliver of Roquefort is to set up a rigorous ongoing Hans Blix-type inspections regime.
I'm not exaggerating about that. Nothing gets past their eyes, and everything gets pasteurized. That's why American "cheesemakers" have to keep putting stuff into the "cheddar" - sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, chocolate chips - to give it some taste, because the cheese itself has none. And, if you try to bring in anything that does taste of something, the US Government's Brie Team Six seizes it:
The US fate of the bright-orange, mild-tasting French cheese has been in jeopardy for months and the Food and Drug Administration has blocked all further imports.
Why? Because US regulators determined the cantaloupe-like rind of the cheese was covered with too many cheese mites, even though the tiny bugs give mimolette its unique flavor.
No formal ban has been put in place, but 1.5 tonnes (3,300 pounds) of cheese were blocked from being imported, and nothing is going through US customs.
"No formal ban has been put in place" - because that would involve legislators passing laws in a legislature and whatnot. So they just banned it anyway.
Last October, during the government "shutdown", I took my show on the road to Mansfield, Ohio, and on the following morning I spoke to some students at Ashland University, a great bastion of liberty in the Buckeye State. It was one of my favorite tour stops in recent years and I had a grand time, but, even among the Ashland students, someone asked me a question about the "dangers" of unregulated food while the various federal inspectors were furloughed. And I tried to explain that liberty isn't just about the First and Second Amendments, but about dairy products, too:
France, for all its faults, has genuinely federalized food: a distinctive cheese every 20 miles down the road. In America, meanwhile, the food nannies are lobbying to pass something called the National Uniformity for Food Act. There's way too much of that already.
The federalization of food may seem peripheral to national security issues, and the taste of American milk – compared with its French or English or even Québécois equivalents – may seem a small loss. But take almost any area of American life: what's the more common approach nowadays? The excessive government regulation exemplified by American cheese or the spirit of self-reliance embodied in the Second Amendment? On a whole raft of issues from health care to education the United States is trending in an alarmingly fromage-like direction.
From the federally-regulated cheese board to the NSA surveillance state to the Obamacare death panel is a shorter ride than you think. Liberty is a full-spectrum affair - guns and butter, assault weapons and Camembert.
~Steyn's international bestseller America Alone is available from the SteynOnline bookstore in hardback, paperback and audio version. Proceeds go to help Mark's upcoming legal battle at the DC Superior Court.