Vt. congressional delegation fights for cheese names - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. congressional delegation fights for cheese names

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The European Union is targeting cheese made in America, and Vermont's Congressional delegation is ready for the fight. United States lawmakers say this latest proposal would be far more reaching, impacting an industry that brought in $22 billion last year alone and could impact cheesemakers big and small.

A new batch of dairy goats has just been born on the Lazy Lady Farm in Westfield. The company produces a variety of cheeses from goat milk and some cow milk. Laini Fondilier says they produce 350 pounds of cheese a week.

That's considered a small operation even by Vermont standards. But several years ago, even with this small operation one of her cheeses caught the attention of officials in France.

"I had a cheese called Valencay because I made that when I was over in France and I brought the forms back here when I started up. I will make Valencay and I did it for years and then I got a letter from a lawyer representing folks in France saying do not use that name anymore," said Fondilier. 

She still makes the cheese but now calls it Bonaparte.

Now the European Union wants to ban the use of names like Parmesan, Feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States and that is the argument. The American-made cheeses are not the same as the original European varieties, many named for the specific region where they are produced.

Fondilier says she can see their point.

"They are very specific what the animal eats if the milk is an a.m. milking or p.m. milking or a blend of the two and I do understand because we are not following that specific type and guideline. I can see where they are coming from," said Fondilier.

However, she feels consumers should know what type of cheese they are buying and banning the names could be confusing.

But there is perhaps another reason for this food fight.

Fondilier says Vermont cheeses have been getting a lot of attention winning a lot of awards and now the domestic cheese market is starting to take a bite out of the imports.

"We have had a lot of artisanal cheese over the past 20 years but in the past 5 to 8 years the cheese has gotten so good, so fabulous and so much of it that they are feeling it now," said Fondilier.

The Vermont Cheese Council is weighing in on the issue, saying, "The use of specific European names is often indicative of a style of cheese or technique of cheese making rather than an imitation or replica of a European cheese."

The council went on to say, "American culture has always embraced the cultures of its immigrants and this is simply one facet of assimilation."

It has yet to be determined how this ripening controversy will play out. In the meantime, Fondilier has more cheese to make, and baby goats to feed.

Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders are taking up the cause. They are part of a bipartisan effort to protect American farmers and cheese makers. Leahy says the proposal is foolish, short sighted and only serves to confuse consumers. 

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