Profiles of the heroes who protect and promote common food names.
Champions on Capitol Hill for Common Names
More than 60 Senators recently sent a letter urging the U.S. government toenhance safeguards for common food names by making it a non-negotiable objective for all trade deals moving forward. This letter marked an important shift in the national conversation and policy considerations surrounding common food names.
While each Senator who signed the letter is a champion for common names, CCFN’s UnCommon Heroes this quarter are two of the Senators who stepped forward to help lead this effort: Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Senator Thune sits on both the Senate Agriculture and Finance committees and also serves on the Republican leadership team as the Senate Republican whip. Senator Stabenow is the ranking member of Senate Committee on Agriculture.
Both have extensive experience as strong advocates for America’s farmers and agricultural producers who create the products that are turned into common name cheeses, meats or wines.
By leading this letter, Senators Thune and Stabenow took a decisive stand against the EU’s predatory practices and said: Enough is enough. The U.S. government must enhance its efforts to break down these trade barriers and advance fair and principled trade rules for common food names in every single trade discussion moving forward.
While Senators Thune and Stabenow helped initiate this effort, other signers of the letter included several senators holding leadership positions on committees with jurisdiction over this issue, notably the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. In addition, the letter boasts the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property as a signer.
This is no small feat and Senators Thune and Stabenow should be applauded for their efforts to garner such broad support from Senators across political ideologies. Not only that but landing multiple signers with direct influence over the issue at hand through their committees of jurisdiction demonstrates the important role common food names play in expanding export opportunities and supporting the U.S. economy.
A statement from CCFN member organization the U.S. Dairy Export Council said it best: “The overwhelming bipartisan support demonstrated by the U.S. Senate for this goal underscores the importance of breaking down these GI-related barriers and achieving greater export safeguards for U.S. cheeses and other common name products.”
Thank you, Senator Thune and Stabenow, for leading the charge as we take on this new frontier in the fight for common food names.
Australia’s Intellectual Property Office
Unlike many other IP government offices around the world, IP Australia, the government agency tasked with administering intellectual property (IP) issues in Australia, has rejected unlawful pressures from the European Union (EU). After years of dedicated effort, CCFN recently secured two major wins in Australia for makers of asiago and gorgonzola cheeses, as the Australian Registrar Of Trademarks ruled against Italian attempts to register these common cheese names as certification trademarks.
This heroic story begins with the Italian Consorzios filing certification trademark applications for gorgonzola and asiago in 2015 and 2016, seeking registrations for both common names. CCFN, of course, submitted oppositions to both applications through member organization the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Meanwhile, Australia was simultaneously launching negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union – putting this issue in the hotseat given the EU’s insistence on seeking to use its trade agreements to further restrict the fair use of common names.
Despite these potentially complicating factors, IP Australia provided a stellar example of a principled approach to handling applications for registration of GIs that threaten to restrict the use of common names. The Australian Hearing Officers reviewed and analyzed all the evidence presented and ruled against the Consorzios. Among notable evidence presented to IP Australia by CCFN was the finding that the term gorgonzola has been used in Australia since at least 1882 to describe a type of cheese, not necessarily produced in Italy, which far predated the Consorzio’s evidence of importation of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) gorgonzola beginning in 1999.
The Hearings Officer dismissed the Consorzio’s argument that only cheese certified by the Consorzio may be considered gorgonzola cheese and other producers are producing fake or imitation cheese as “an extraordinary submission that seeks to put the cart before the horse.” He added that:
“As at the date of this decision, there is no law in Australia preventing the use of the Trade Mark to describe a type of cheese and there is evidence of over 120 years of use of the Trade Mark for precisely that purpose, much of which predates the Applicant’s existence and the status of the Trade Mark as a PDO in Europe.”
Incredibly, as the asiago case record noted, the Consorzio’s own declaration in defense of trademarking the term asiago acknowledged that asiago cheese is produced in locations outside of Italy, referring to a Wikipedia page that notes, “Most Asiago, however, is made elsewhere using techniques and cultures that produce a cheese of the same or similar flavor.” The hearings officer concluded that the term “asiago” was not distinctive in Australia primarily on the basis of descriptive use by North American producers. Accordingly, the Consorzios’ applications to register both gorgonzola and asiago as certification trademarks were refused.
The CCFN applauds IP Australia’s considered approach in these matters and hopes similar commonsense considerations and fair-trade principles will ultimately prevail as talks continue between Australia and the EU. That would be a welcome development and CCFN will continue its work to advance further protections for common food names and generic terms.
Too many other countries have failed to take a similarly principled path as IP Australia, instead bowing to pressure from the EU to monopolize common names and unduly limit trade. So, for your heroic efforts to defend common names, cheers to you IP Australia!
Bobby Koch, President and CEO, Wine Institute
As head of Wine Institute, Bobby Koch is eager to share his pride in the California (USA) wine industry and its history.
“The first record of planting vines was in 1683 by Spanish missionaries. More than 400 years later, if California were a country, we would be the world’s fourth largest wine producer,” he said. Today California represents more than 85% of U.S. wine production and 95% of U.S. wine exports.
Wine Institute represents 1,000 wineries from diverse wine regions throughout the state, supporting legislative and regulatory advocacy throughout the United States and abroad. The organization is also active in international market development, media relations and sustainability programs.
“Many of our members are focused on sustainability – how to maintain their businesses to pass on to future generations. Some Wine Institute members have the fifth generation involved in winemaking,” Koch said.
Wine Institute members include small, medium and large wineries, most of which are family owned and operated. Koch notes that wineries have many challenges, from labor to environmental concerns to retaliatory tariffs. As they navigate these issues, they also need to ensure that the traditions and history of winemaking operations continue.
“Wine Institute supports CCFN because we believe that each country should be able to produce high quality products, under the names that have been associated with those products or style for decades,” Koch said. “The European ancestors of California families began making wine, taking with them their native names and cultures to share in their new home. There is a disconnect between this European migration abroad and current European wine regulations. The European Union (EU) believes that nouns and adjectives ‘traditionally associated with winemaking’ such as chateau and ruby can only be associated with wines produced in Europe or in countries that have a full wine agreement with the EU.”
While the 2006 EU-US Wine Agreement allows U.S. wineries to use the terms in the EU, any new trademark application using a “traditional term” is blocked. A total of 19 European and other countries can use the terms in the European marketplace. Wine Institute applied to use the terms in 2010, and has only received two responses to date, giving permission for California wineries to use “crusted” and “cream” when exporting to the EU.
“In the past, European officials have stated that European consumers would become confused with a Californian wine using ‘chateau’ on a label. But California has a long history and its own tradition of producing high quality wines. Since a wine label clearly states the country of origin, and even the state and sometimes American Viticultural Area, we question how a European consumer could become confused,” Koch said.
Koch notes that the EU is actively engaging in free trade agreement (FTA) discussions or has already signed FTAs with important U.S. export markets, such as China, Mexico, Japan and Mercosur countries. He says trade agreements should clearly indicate when a term is generic, such as a grape varietal name included in a compound European GI, such as “Dolcetto d’Alba” or “Brie de Meaux”.
“This could help prevent confusion by regulatory officials between a generic and a product with protected status,” he notes, adding that “CCFN and its members need to stay vigilant so that the interests of producers of products with common names will continue to have access to global markets.”
Dominique Delugeau, Sr. Vice President of Specialty Cheese and International Trade, Saputo Cheese USA Inc.
Dominique Delugeau has been in the cheese industry for more than 30 years and is passionate about specialty cheese. Throughout his career he has worked at several cheese companies – including with two other active CCFN members, Belgioioso Cheese and Schuman Cheese. Through acquisition, he has been with Saputo for 17 years.
His dedication to cheese in North America has included a stint as president of the American Cheese Society (ACS), the Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute (WSCI) and the Cheese Importers Association of America (CIAA). He currently serves on the executive board of the International Deli Dairy Bakery Association (IDDBA).
As Senior Vice President of Specialty Cheese and International Trade for Saputo Cheese USA Inc., he helps direct a company that produces, markets and distributes a variety of cheeses for retail, foodservice and ingredient uses, including a broad line of mozzarella, American-style and specialty cheeses, such as ricotta, provolone, blue, parmesan, asiago, romano and goat cheeses.
“I’m most proud of the dedication of our plant people and the commitment in producing the best products possible,” Delugeau said.
While Saputo is a relatively new company – founded in 1954 – it was formed through the consolidation of many cheese companies with deep historical roots such as Frigo and Stella – brands that Saputo continues to develop as familiar names in specialty cheese – and brands that are paired with generic names of many styles of popular cheeses.
“If we were unable to use common names, our business would be at an extreme, unfair advantage,” he said. “These brands were established years ago by families who, like the Saputo family, emigrated from Europe and brought their passion and know-how to North America. They invested a lot of hard work and capital to build the name recognition we now have in the marketplace: Frigo Provolone, Frigo Asiago, Stella Parmesan, Stella Romano etc.”
Saputo Cheese USA Inc.’s parent Saputo Inc., is one of the top 10 dairy processors in the world, headquartered in Montreal, Canada, with more than 15,000 employees. It is the largest cheese manufacturer and leading fluid milk and cream processor in Canada, the top dairy processor in Australia, and the second largest in Argentina. In the USA, Saputo ranks among the top three cheese producers and is one of the largest producers of extended shelf-life and cultured dairy products. In the United Kingdom, Saputo is the largest branded manufacturer of cheese and a top manufacturer of dairy spreads and butters.
As an international company, Saputo imports “a fair amount” of specialty cheese from Europe, Delugeau said. “We believe in well-defined geographical indications (GIs), but we are certainly concerned about the stand the European Union (EU) has taken in the last four to five years on common names, and their attempts to claw-back use of these names in many countries. That is creating unfair global situations and undermining well-established businesses.”
The latest attack on those businesses is the EU’s consideration of approval of a Danish GI application for “havarti”.
“Within Europe there have been many variations of havarti made. In fact, the true original smear rind Danish havarti for the most part has been replaced by a style of havarti for large-scale production. Why should this deserve a GI?” Delugeau said.
“In addition, havarti has been produced in the United States for many years by very talented cheesemakers. The name ‘havarti’ is clearly a generic term,” he added.
“The Saputo promise is around seven pillars for corporate values, including a commitment to our people. Loss of business in our plants would be inevitable if Europe had its way on how it approaches GIs, which is one major reason we want to passionately protect common names.”
Darmanto Setyawan, Head of Dairy Manufacturing, South East Asia, Greenfields Indonesia
Founded in 1997, Greenfields Indonesia responded to a growing demand in Southeast Asia for fresh dairy products that could be produced locally. The heart of the company is a 10,000-head Holstein and Jersey dairy cow operation in East Java. The company’s milk plant processes pasteurized milk, UHT milk, UHT whipping cream and fresh cheese (mozzarella, ricotta and camembert). In early 2017 Greenfields opened a second dairy plant and launched stirred yogurt to the Indonesian market.
“Within seven months we became the market leader for yogurt. We carefully track consumer preferences and develop good quality yogurts that meet that demand,” said Darmanto Setyawan. “The factory was designed by our team to be efficient and environmentally friendly.”
Darmanto, who has been with the company for more than 15 years, is proud of the high-quality products that Greenfields is able to deliver. He oversees the Greenfields manufacturing team, with a strong focus on developing skilled workers to leverage the latest manufacturing technology.
“We have successfully become the market leader in pasteurized milk in Indonesia because of our consistent quality and delivery of product to the retail and foodservice sectors,” he said. “The good quality of our milk gives us the potential to produce other fresh dairy products that previously were only available through imports at high prices, or made from recombined milk.”
In addition to supplying the domestic market, Greenfields exports a significant portion of its finished products for sale in Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Philippines.
The Greenfields product line includes several fresh cheeses bearing generic names, including mozzarella, camembert, and ricotta. For Darmanto, the threat that the European Union might seize control of common names like these represents unfair competition that could set back some of the tremendous progress the young company has made.
“We rely on the common dairy names for products that have become familiar to our customers and consumers in Southeast Asia,” he said. “It would be very difficult and costly to communicate to the consumer about our products if we didn’t use common food names.
“We are already facing the possibility that the free trade agreement between Indonesia and Australia/EU will remove or reduce import barriers – including tariffs – which will bring more competition to us,” he added. “That’s why it’s so important for us to always focus on consistent quality in a market where we provide fresh dairy – and distance and time to market won’t affect the quality and cost of delivery.”
Competing on quality is something Darmanto understands is part of fair trade. Having the generic terms you use on your labels swept out from under you, after building the markets for those products with millions of new consumers, is another thing altogether.
“This would bring additional costs and unfair competition. Everyone should be able to use these common names,” he said.
Mauro Montalto, Director, Floridia Cheese (Australia)
Almost 70 years ago, when Mauro Montalto, his wife Carmela and their three young sons emigrated from Sicily to Australia, they brought with them aspects of Italian culture that allowed them to survive and feel at home in a new environment. This included the cheesemaking skills handed down from family-to-family in their home town of Floridia, Sicily. Settling into Melbourne life, the elder Mauro started making traditional ricotta over a wood fire in his backyard for his family, then for neighbors and friends, and finally for the local grocer. From these humble beginnings grew Floridia, which now sells award-winning cheeses into the retail, foodservice and industrial markets throughout Australia and in numerous international markets, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Floridia also still operates delivery vans in the Melbourne metropolitan area to serve loyal, home-town customers.
Along with brother Daniel and sisters Lisa and Rose, namesake grandson Mauro Montalto now heads up the family business, which operates under the tagline, “Traditionally Italian – Proudly Australian”. Montalto’s continuing attention to quality has earned him the title of Champion Cheese Maker in 2018 and 2017 from the Australian dairy industry – with Floridia’s ricotta netting the highest score for an Italian cheese in 2017. The company has also garnered recent honors for its casalingo, pecorino, parmesan and buffalo mozzarella. Not surprisingly, Montalto feels strongly about the need to protect common food names.
“Our lives have been built around these names. This is our livelihood,” he said.
If his company were to lose the ability to use generic names, he said, “I seriously doubt if we would survive, and more than 60 years of family heritage and tradition would be lost. In comparative terms, we are a small cheese producer. Our products are based on traditional Italian cheese varieties, so we don’t have the luxury of adjusting our sales mix to less affected varieties and cheese names.
“We applaud the CCFN for the work it’s doing in focusing global attention on this important issue and going in to bat for people like us in opposing the European Union’s abuse of geographical indications,” he added. “We are a small family business with limited resources and we rely on groups such as CCFN to help spread the word.”
The issue is top of mind for Floridia given the start of the EU-Australian trade talks, and with the EU’s geographical indications (GI) demands already a strong point of contention, especially with the Australian dairy industry.
“If the [EU’s GI demands] are enforced in the Australian market, we see that our business model will be unsustainable, as we could no longer use long-established branding and product names,” Montalto said, adding that it’s not just about names, but about the “human know-how” behind those names. “We strongly argue that the skills in the manufacture of cheese and the cheesemaking process are critical to the success of the final product – and that’s deeply reflected in the development of our business.”
Without the use of common names like “ricotta” and “parmesan”, Floridia fears it would have limited ability to build or maintain future sales, because it would need to re-name and re-market its products, particularly in export markets.
“This would result in a progressive reduction in future sales opportunities,” Montalto said. “At a bare minimum, we would incur significant re-branding, re-marketing and consumer education costs in order to keep operating. In addition, we could potentially face reduced consumer demand and sales, if they adjust at all, to new names and new branding. And there is the potential for significant sales losses to importer competition in Australia from European brands that would be able to use those common names that consumers are used to seeing.”
Floridia also objects to the attempt by some Italian groups to oppose branding images that evoke the Italian heritage. “This would create unwelcome uncertainty for our business in terms of planning and investment decisions,” he said.
For Montalto, the EU shouldn’t focus on trying to gain market share by claiming ownership of names, but rather by skill and dedication of the cheesemaker.
“One rule my grandfather said to me was, ‘You make a really good cheese. You won’t even be the biggest and you won’t be the richest, but there will always be someone that will buy your cheese. Or you can just make [ordinary] cheese and fight on that level, and I can guarantee you’ll never last.’”
“And that is our philosophy,” Montalto said. “To make delicious-tasting cheese while never forgetting our family’s Italian cheesemaking heritage.”
Barry Carpenter, President and CEO, North American Meat Institute
Fewer issues are more important to the North American meat industry than trade, and that makes trade a passion for Barry Carpenter, President and CEO of the North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute).
The association represents beef, pork, lamb and turkey packers and processors, and their suppliers. Members range from large, multi-national companies to small, family-owned businesses, with association members processing approximately 95% of red meat and 70% of turkey products in the United States.
Thanks to high-quality products and market demand throughout the world, U.S. meat exports set records in 2017: U.S. beef export value exceeded $7 billion last year, and pork exports surpassed the previous year’s volume record, totaling 2.45 million metric tons.
“However, the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the uncertainty around other trade agreements and relationships – including the recent decision by China to levy 25% tariffs on U.S. pork – remain areas of concern,” Carpenter said.
The Meat Institute also objects to tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, and to food safety standards and regulations not rooted in science, so Carpenter takes issue with efforts, primarily by the EU, to confiscate generic terms.
“Our industry depends on robust international trade, but the acceptance of inappropriate GI restrictions poses a significant potential non-tariff barrier for U.S. meat exports,” he said. “The momentum we’ve experienced in meat exports requires that our member companies that use generic terms are granted continued market access to a growing global population.”
While the Meat Institute supports the protection of legitimate geographic indications, such as “Prosciutto di Parma,” common meat terms, like “black forest ham,” “bologna,” and “salami” are increasingly under threat, Carpenter said. Inappropriate GI restrictions could force U.S. meat and poultry companies to re-label products – a costly endeavor that would likely result in consumer confusion, Carpenter said. This, in turn, would create additional barriers to trade that would impede, rather than promote, U.S. meat exports to critical global markets.
“Foreign competitors that are granted exclusive access to common terms would receive an unfair commercial advantage that would likely allow them to co-opt markets that were developed over decades by producers from the U.S. and other regions,” he said. “That unfair trade disadvantage could affect tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of meat sector employees whose livelihoods are tied to a strong export market.”
Carpenter hailed the work of the Consortium for Common Food Names as “invaluable and comprehensive”, encompassing advocacy, legal and communications efforts.
“CCFN provides the resources and support to keep track of all proposed GIs, and coordinates expert opposition filings to prevent the inappropriate restriction of common food and meat terms,” he said. “With CCFN’s focus on, and dedication to, these issues, the Meat Institute and other members can maintain a robust international affairs portfolio, while remaining engaged and active on GI-related concerns.”
Hisao Fukuda, COO and Secretary General, The Japanese Foodservice Association
One of the more recent CCFN supporters is the Japan Foodservice Association, which is Japan’s largest foodservice industry organization, with more than 800 companies and 65,000 outlets represented in its membership. The organization has one central mission: To support Japan’s foodservice industry in its pursuit to achieve healthy economic growth while fulfilling social responsibilities.
In helping guide the organization, COO and Secretary General Hisao Fukuda says his members face a number of challenges, including labor shortages, increasing food costs, how to assure food safety, and numerous regulatory constraints. But Hisao adds that the issue of protecting common food names is also very important to his members.
“Japan’s foodservice industry members and related businesses have long used imported food items, some of which now carry ‘generic’ names,” he says. “In particular, many cheese varieties are commonly traded and used under these generic names regardless of their country of origin – such as parmesan, mozzarella, gouda, edam, camembert and brie.
“If our members were unable to use common food names and terms, all the menus, recipes, and related documents that carry such names in question would have to be renamed and reprinted,” he said. “We support the work of the CCFN because restricting use of the names of these commonly traded/used food items would greatly confuse our members and disrupt their business practices.”
The organization estimates the size of the dynamic Japanese foodservice market at more than $234 billion.
Fermo Jaeckle, CEO Intercibus Inc.
Intercibus, Inc., based in Brookside, New Jersey, USA, provides sales, marketing and financial assistance in support of new entrants to the ever-changing U.S. specialty cheese market. CEO Fermo Jaeckle has a long successful history with the U.S. specialty cheese sector, including co-founding and leading Roth Kase USA, a Monroe, Wisconsin-based company that became one of the top 10 U.S. producers of specialty cheese, winning numerous awards in national and international cheese competitions. The company was acquired by Swiss company Emmi in 2009, and is now called Emmi Roth USA.
“Twenty-five years ago, few if anyone foresaw today’s vibrant artisan cheese market with the consumer’s demand for locally sourced product,” Jaeckle says. “Yet here we are. Feta produced in Wisconsin, gouda from New York state, parmesan from California. As a fourth-generation member of a family that has been involved in the production and distribution of cheese, I am grateful for the efforts of the Consortium for Common Food Names to protect open markets for generic food names in recognition of the investments that have been made by many previous generations.”
“I’m not opposed to GIs per se, but I believe that the U.S. Patent and Trademark laws offer plenty of possibilities for identity protection to producers without creating barriers to trade,” said Jaeckle. “And when it makes the wrong call initially – as any system does occasionally – there are ways for the public to point out that problem and help it course-correct.”
Jaeckle says that the European Community along with producer organizations in certain other countries are attempting to confiscate international trademark rights on product categories that have long since passed into the public domain. Chefs, food writers and other food professionals acknowledge that many of the products for which the EU is seeking GI protection have been made for generations outside their original production areas, he says.
“The fact that many of these products have longstanding international standards of identity verifies that these terms are generic,” he says. “Where do we draw the line? Must all ‘swiss’ cheese be made in Switzerland? Under the pretexts of those promoting GIs the answer must be, yes! – but this is an untenable and indefensible position.”
Ramiro Pérez Zarco, Executive Director, Asociación de Desarrollo Lácteo de Guatemala (ASODEL)
As with other Central American countries, Guatemala has a deep cultural and culinary appreciation for cheese, as well as an economic interest in the growth of the nation’s dairy industry. Guatemalan companies produce fresh cheeses, as well as semi-soft and hard cheeses such as gouda, parmesan, muenster, mozzarella, provolone, ementhal, cheddar, and many other varieties.
Ramiro Pérez Zarco has both a personal and professional connection with dairy, having grown up in a family of dairy farmers, and now as head of ASODEL, Guatemala’s dairy industry organization. In addition to his early career as a breeder of Jersey cows, he served with Guatemalan and Central American milk producer organizations, and he also served twice as vice minister of livestock in the country’s Ministry of Agriculture. For the past seven years he’s been with ASODEL, focused on “improving production efficiency, supporting brands in the marketplace, and working with the government in preserving the rights of free enterprise, equality and equity in local and international markets.”
For Pérez Zarco and ASODEL, the protection of generic names is a right acquired and won by the Guatemalan industry over many years. If Guatemalan manufacturers were unable to use common food names, Pérez Zarco says they would likely have to make a significant investment in informing customers about the benefits and special characteristics of their products.
“That’s an expense that affects the profitability of our businesses, and for no good reason. Europeans would not likely increase their sales here, since the prices of their products are already prohibitively high for this region in terms of their volume of sales – so it would be bad business for everyone.”
He adds, “Many of the types of cheeses sold in Guatemala and Central America were introduced to the market by our industries. It’s simply unjust that European industries that have never had a presence in these markets now claim our work and seek to exclude us based on principles established by them.
“We see the work of the Consortium for Common Food Names as very important and fair – as a way to protect our business effort and defend our commercial heritage.”
David Ahlem, CEO, Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc.
In 1983, twelve central California dairy families sat in a local diner and dreamed of creating a cheese company that would boost the value of their Jersey cows’ high-solids milk. David Ahlem’s parents joined with other local dairy farmer families to form the initial concepts on the back of a napkin. That group created Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc.
David grew up learning how a group of diverse families could work together to build Hilmar Cheese Company. He worked summers during college in the processing plant and joined Cargill Animal Nutrition as business manager after earning a B.A. from Westmont College and an M.B.A. from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
In 2004, Ahlem returned to Hilmar Cheese Company as site manager of its Texas plant, where he was instrumental in developing a state-of-the-art facility. In 2011, he and his family moved back to California where he held various leadership positions before becoming Hilmar’s chief executive officer.
Hilmar Cheese Company and its division, Hilmar Ingredients, serve customers in more than 50 countries. State-of-the-art production facilities in California and Texas convert high-quality milk from local dairy farms into cheese, whey ingredients and milk powders. The company specializes in the production of cheddar and American-style cheeses used by private label and national brand companies worldwide.
As an international company, Hilmar is very supportive of the Consortium for Common Food Names and its work. “We recognize the threat and trade hurdles geographical indications can create,” David Ahlem said. “They impact some of our valued customers’ international business, so a fair playing field is important to us as well as all U.S. producers. Dairy has so much good to offer but there are challenges to its availability that deserve the global dairy industry’s action.”
“Protecting common cheese names is vitally important and it’s fortunate that CCFN has taken on this role for dairy and the other threatened industries,” Ahlem said.
Jaime Olvera Kipper, Owner, Kipper Cheese from Mexico
Jaime Olvera Kipper is the owner and CEO of Kipper Cheese from Mexico, a manufacturer of gourmet cheeses, most of them French. A biochemical engineer, Jaime graduated from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education and then pursued a master’s degree in dairy products and milk at Cornell University in New York. He began a successful, 40-year career in food and dairy businesses in Japan, after studying food science there. Jaime became the general manager of several companies, but was always linked to the production of specialty cheese. He is known as a “cheese master.”
Jaime’s mother was of French origin, and his grandparents were from France’s Alsace region. As a result, he was constantly exposed to French culinary customs. Later, Jaime’s family immigrated to Guanajuato, in the center of Mexico, a traditional dairy region.
“From a very young age,” he said, “I always wanted to have my own company and specialize in high quality cheeses.” A few years ago, Jaime applied the experience inherited from his grandparents to create Kipper Cheese from Mexico. The company produces Chevrotin, Tomme, Brique, Munster, Reblochon and Manchego, among other specialty cheeses. It uses cow and goat milk produced by Mexican milk producers, and has world-class quality standards.
“We are a small but constantly growing company, so we are very concerned about the European Union policies pursuing the exclusive takeover of common food names,” Jaime said. “It is not fair that the effort and dedication of years of work be expropriated; of course, we are in favor of respect for the Denomination of Origin, but not in the case of generic names, especially when families that came from Europe created the market.”
Jaime doesn’t believe the EU has the right to simply confiscate something through a trade negotiation. “I am just one example of the numerous cheese producers in Mexico and around the world that have dedicated their lives to developing markets outside Europe,” he said. “The right of common names belongs to us all.”
“At Kipper Cheese from Mexico,” he said, “we have plans for the future, and, while we are not a big company, we have worked very hard. We ask the government offices that handle foreign trade to be vigilant and protect our legitimate right to produce cheeses and name them with the names that have become common over the years.”
Neal Schuman, CEO, Schuman Cheese
As the chief executive of a U.S. company making Italian heritage cheeses, Neal Schuman is concerned about Europe’s campaign to gain exclusive rights to names like parmesan, asiago and mozzarella. So Schuman supports the work of the Consortium for Common Food Names.
“I do believe that the European negotiating position is an attempt to try to undermine well-established businesses that were predicated on our traditional system of standards of identities, Code of Federal Regulations, and long-standing trademark law,” Schuman said. “Any attempt to change our past and deeply ingrained rules neglects the many years of investment people and companies have made to build their brands, their businesses, and risks putting many U.S. citizens out of work.”
“In addition,” Schuman said, “it limits consumer options in countries abroad. They deserve a choice of products and products at different price.”
Schuman is the third-generation head of Schuman Cheese, a company that exemplifies how the cheese industry has grown and flourished in the United States. His grandfather, company founder Arthur Schuman, started out importing high-quality cheeses from Italy and then used what he learned to open U.S. plants making authentic Italian cheeses using old-world methods.
Today, Schuman Cheese’s award-winning products, handcrafted in Wisconsin, can be found in stores ranging from mom-and-pop delis to major retailers. Its brands include Cello, Bella Rosa, G. Carbonelli, Pastures of Eden and Tutta Bella.
Known for decades as Arthur Schuman, Inc., the company recently marked its 70th anniversary by changing its name to Schuman Cheese and launching a new brand, Yellow Door Creamery. Its headquarters is in Fairfield, New Jersey, less than 20 miles from where the company started. Last year, Schuman also launched its own labeling initiative, known as True Cheese, to emphasize the importance of quality and authenticity in cheese making.
Emilio Karake, Operations Director, Italiana de Alimentos, S.A., Guatemala
Architect by profession and restaurateur by passion, Emilio Karake is the Guatemala franchise owner for Italianni’s, a chain of casual, authentic Italian restaurants. After 10 years specializing in design and construction of commercial and corporate spaces, Karake in 2010 was offered an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. After an exhaustive, 90-day hands-on program, he acquired the know-how for the restaurant business, and immediately proceeded to open the first Italianni’s in Guatemala, in 2011.
Italianni’s was conceived in Texas in 1991 by the Carlson Group, creators of TGI Friday’s. In 1996, Italianni’s opened its first restaurants in Mexico and the Philippines. Today, it has 95 restaurants in the two countries – and it’s still growing. Success comes in part from treating each customer as a guest in their own home. Food made from authentic Italian recipes is enjoyed in a family environment with surroundings that take guests for a few minutes to a bistro in Italy.
As a Guatemalan restaurateur specializing in Italian food, Karake is concerned about the European Union’s attempts to claim exclusive rights to common-name products like parmesan that have been produced in Central America for decades.
“By trying to take back names like parmesan, the European Union is harming thousands of small and medium-sized producers in Guatemala and neighboring countries,” Karake said. “Fortunately, the Consortium for Common Food Names is fighting back. It is playing a crucial role in opposing the EU’s abuse of the geographical indications concept. That’s why I’m a CCFN supporter. It is important to protect the right to use generic names like parmesan.”
Mike McCloskey, CEO, Select Milk Producers, Inc.
Call Mike McCloskey the ultimate innovator. A native of Pittsburgh who grew up in Puerto Rico, he earned a Doctorat
e in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Mexico City, completed a residency in Dairy Herd Health Production from U.C. Davis and then opened a dairy veterinary practice in Escondido, California. By the mid-1980s, he and his wife, Sue, were partners in their first dairy. In 1990 they moved to Southeastern New Mexico, where they partnered in two 2,500-cow dairies.
A few years later, the McCloskeys, their partner and some like-minded dairy farmers formed Select Milk Producers. With McCloskey as its CEO, the cooperative soon realized a reputation for service, quality and accountability to its buyers, which included H.E.B., Deans Foods and Kroger. While continuing to grow the co-op, McCloskey developed a way to concentrate milk by removing water and lactose. The result was reduced transportation costs, which allowed distant, more profitable markets to become available.
By 1998, the McCloskeys were looking for another challenge. Moving their home base from New Mexico to northest Indiana, and with the help of their partner, they opened what is now a 15,000 acre, five-facility farm that milks 15,000 cows. Realizing that they had the opportunity to influence and counter misperceptions about large-scale dairy farming, the McCloskeys, along with eight nearby family-owned dairy farms, opened their entire operation to the public. Along with a Dairy Adventure building, the Birthing Barn and the now famous Fair Oaks Farms Cowfé, they created an agritourism attraction that last year hosted half a million visitors. Three years ago, the Fair Oaks Farms Pig Adventure opened showcasing a modern 3,000-sow farrowing barn. This year, Winfield Solutions’ Crop Adventure building is scheduled to open. Besides being state-of-the-art centers of “edutainment,” all of these facilities are powered by methane digesters that run off of the manure of 15,000 cows and 3,000 sows.
Innovation continued with fairlife, Select Milk Producers’ health and wellness subsidiary, which produces high-protein, low-sugar milks as well as Core Power, a high protein muscle recovery drink. In 2011, fairlife partnered with The Coca Cola Company in the beverage giant’s first American foray into dairy. Today, Coke delivers fairlife’s products coast to coast. Because of its innovation in both technology and product development, fairlife’s Coopersville, Michigan, plant was recently named Processor of the Year by Dairy Foods magazine.
Given McCloskey’s innovative nature and his life-long involvement in dairy farming, it’s not surprising that Select Milk Producers joined the Consortium for Common Food Names. “The work of the Consortium is crucial,” Mike McCloskey said. “No other global organization is standing up to the European Union’s outrageous attempts to monopolize food names—especially cheese names—that have long been in the public domain.
“Names like feta and parmesan belong to everyone, not just a small group of producers in Greece and Italy,” McCloskey added. “Decisions being made now in regulations and trade agreements across the globe will have a tremendous impact on the U.S. dairy industry’s ability to use cheese names crucial to its success. Select Milk must be part of a campaign to keep these names available to cheese producers everywhere.”
Interview with Roberto Brazzale, CEO of Gruppo Brazzale
Ed Townley, CEO of Agri-Mark
One of the best-known and well-loved cheese names in the United States is “Cabot,” a brand that evokes the farm families and rich cheese-making traditions of Vermont and the rolling rural countryside of the Northeast. While Cabot is best known as award-winning cheddar cheese, the Agri-Mark cooperative also offers a full array of cheeses, butter, yogurt and other dairy products using both the Cabot and McCadam brands.
Agri-Mark, which just celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2013, markets milk from 1,200 dairy farm families in New England and New York and has annual sales of $1.1 billion. Agri-Mark is the first dairy cooperative in the U.S. to gain B-Corp Certification. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
When it comes to protecting generic terms, high on Cabot’s list is its ability to use the common names “cheddar,” “muenster” and “Greek yogurt”. It has won numerous awards for its high-quality products in all three categories. While so far “cheddar” has not been directly threatened by the European Union’s (EU) efforts to over-extend geographical indication protections, Agri-Mark is well aware that the line keeps moving and, for now, no term with roots in Europe can be deemed safe. The name “muenster,” which Cabot produces out of its Chateaugay, N.Y., plant, was targeted for new restrictions by the EU in its free trade agreement with Canada, and countries are banned from shipping muenster to the EU.
“We’ve seen how the EU is pursuing ownership of the words ‘muenster,’ ‘parmesan,’, ‘feta,’ ‘asiago’ and ‘havarti’, among many other names. At this point there doesn’t seem to be a clear line of where they will stop,” said Ed Townley, Agri-Mark CEO. “Fortunately, we know the CCFN is working very hard to expose these abuses and push back – that’s vitally important for the future of our business here in the U.S. and also for our trade interests. Dairy exports are becoming increasingly important for the entire U.S. dairy industry.”
Many food names – from “cheddar” to “pizza,” originated in Europe, but have long since become generic.
“Our hard-working dairy farm families have made millions of dollars in investments in products that everyone knows by these names,” said Townley. “We’re proud of our cheddar, muenster and other products, and look forward to sharing them for generations to come.”
Giorgio Linguanti, Proprietor and Cheesemaker, That’s Amore Cheese
In 2004 Giorgio Linguanti arrived on the shores of Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, Australia. In only four years this young Sicilian went from not speaking a word of English to opening his own cheese shop and winning awards at the Royal Melbourne Show; he has won numerous awards since.
Linguanti came to Melbourne looking for a fresh start, leaving behind a career in advertising and his life in Italy. He got a job in an Australian cheese factory where his interest and passion for making cheese ignited. “It looked challenging” he confessed.
He learned on his feet, and after washing a lot of cheese vats and stretching a lot of curd, in 2008 That’s Amore Cheese was born. He made cheese on Sunday, and drove around to restaurants and shops on weekday mornings to give out product samples. He began with just one product – bocconcini leaf, which was a hit with the Italian restaurants. Before long he was also making burrata and smoked scarmorza. Chefs admired his artisan skills in handmade cheeses. Now Linguanti’s business, which has grown rapidly, is moving into a larger factory in Thomastown.
“I have great respect for these famous, delicate cheeses that we make by hand each day. We make mozzarella, bocconcini, ricotta, mascarpone, scamorza and others. Yes, these cheeses originated in my home country of Italy, but we proudly make them here according to those traditions, and spread the love for these cheeses – and the names of these cheeses – here in Australia.”
That’s Amore Cheese has won numerous awards for its specialty cheeses, including silver and gold medals from the Australian Grand Dairy Awards, Australian Dairy Product Competition, Australian Specialist Cheesemakers Association, Royal Melbourne Fine Foods Awards, and others.
“The key to cheesemaking is love. That’s true for everything you do, not just cheese,” said Linguanti. “If you do it with love, the results are obvious – it’s got to be good. That’s why my company’s name, ‘That’s Amore’, means ‘That’s Love.'”
Norberto Purtschert, General Manager, Floralp SA
Norberto Purtschert, Floralp
In 1949, Norberto Purtschert’s father Oskar left Switzerland for Ecuador with a specific two-year commission to make the Swiss cheeses he knew and loved from his homeland. But to Ecuadoreans, hard cheeses like gruyere were still eccentric, and didn’t immediately catch on. In fact, Oskar nearly gave up and left Ecuador, until Ecuadorean President Galo Plaza Laso tasted his cheeses at an exhibition, was impressed, and convinced him to stay. After several years Oskar founded Floralp in the city of Ibarra. Appropriately, he named the new company Floralp, meaning flower of the Alps.
Now it’s the 50th anniversary of Floralp, which has become a South American dairy industry leader in the production and marketing of fresh, semi-soft and hard cheeses. Over the years Floralp helped develop a taste and market for many European cheeses within Ecuador and neighboring Peru and Colombia. Today the company offers parmesan, camembert, brie, gruyere, tilsiter, raclette, manchego, feta, emmentaler, cheddar, fontina, mozzarella and provolone. The company has received awards in social responsibility, as well as honors for its brie, camembert and other products.
“Looking at our product list, it’s easy to understand why we are members of the Consortium for Common Food Names, and why we feel so strongly that these cheeses are just as much a part of our heritage and business as for anyone else who makes them,” says Norberto Purtschert, who now leads the company. Oskar passed away in 2013.
“My father founded this company with the vision of applying the highest standards of quality to meet the demands of our customers,” Purtschert continues. “This has always been a family company where everyone pitches in and helps out, where we try to promote a sense of community, protect the environment, and provide nutritious and delicious products.
“To us, the most important qualities are to be fair and considerate of others, both within our company operations and in the community. I believe the issue of protecting generic names fits absolutely into that mandate of fairness, so that everyone can use these names for products that many, many people have made, shared and enjoyed over many years,” he said.
Pedro Garcia, Tregar – García Hnos. Agroindustrial S.R.L.
Pedro Garcia of Tregar
Argentina is the seventh largest cheese producer in the world, and cheese companies like Tregar, based in the northeast province of Santa Fe, help fulfil the nation’s love for a wide variety of cheeses.
Pedro Garcia, owner, and his brothers Vicente and Florencio, have helped grow Tregar’s dairy interests from its humble beginnings when their parents, Spanish immigrants, started the business in the 1930s. The company currently produces a wide variety of soft, semi-hard and hard cheeses, such as gouda, edam, fontina, gruyere, mozzarella, sardo, reggianito, and many others. It also produces yogurt and dry milk products.
“Over many years we have built a brand that carries a high-quality reputation across all our products, especially our cheeses,” Garcia said.
With the Mercosur-EU trade talks reportedly back on track, Garcia is keeping a close eye on EU stipulations regarding geographical indications. Tregar sells primarily to the domestic market, with increasing interest in exports to other destinations in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe (Russian Federation).
“When food producers in countries trading with the EU aren’t paying attention, they may wake up to find they suddenly have serious restrictions to deal with coming out of trade agreements,” Garcia said. “We are doing what we can now to make sure we will still be free to use generic names like ‘gouda’, ‘edam’, ‘fontina’, ‘gruyere’ and ‘provolone’, both here in Argentina and in trade with other nations around the world.”
Tregar supports CCFN and is a vocal ally for protecting the rights to use common food names in Argentina and around the globe. http://www.tregar.com.ar/
Ron Buholzer, Klondike Cheese
Ron (right) and brothers Steve (middle) and Dave
Swiss immigrant Ernest Buholzer began making Swiss cheese in southern Wisconsin in 1925, establishing a family cheesemaking business that continues to this day. Seven members of the Buholzer family now work together at Klondike Cheese Co., including President Ron Buholzer (the founder’s grandson), his brothers Dave and Steve, and fourth generation family members.
The company makes feta, muenster, brick and havarti cheeses, as well as an exciting new venture in Greek-style yogurt.
“We are recognized nationally for our very authentic, award-winning feta,” said Ron Buholzer. “We have four master cheesemakers, state-of-the-art equipment, and great employees who are really committed to providing superior quality and consistency for all our products.
At the 2014 U.S. Cheese Championship Contest, Klondike won top awards for its lowfat feta in brine, muenster, and reduced-fat peppercorn feta in brine. Last year its Odyssey® brand Med Herb flavored feta, Odyssey® fat-free feta and Swisconsin® Havarti all won first place in their categories.
“Our cheeses have earned many awards but our greatest joy is when we hear from someone how much they have enjoyed one of our cheeses,” says Buholzer.
Obviously, efforts to take away Klondike’s right to use the common names “feta”, “havarti” – and even “Greek yogurt” cut pretty close to the bone for this fourth-generation cheese company.
“It’s outrageous, really, that anyone would claim to have sole ownership of these names,” says Buholzer. “We take great pride in the quality of our feta and havarti, and have for decades. This is an economic issue for us, certainly, but it’s also personal – it’s about what’s right and fair.”
“We’ve been an active member of CCFN since 2012. I think one of the most important things they’re doing is spreading the word about this issue, because it has the potential to affect many, many food producers all over the world. It’s important to draw a line in the sand and make it clear that these names belong to all of us,” Buholzer said.
Jim Sartori, Sartori Co.
This year, Sartori Company is celebrating its 75th anniversary, looking back on an award-studded history that dates to 1939, when Italian immigrant Paolo Sartori started making cheese in Wisconsin, USA. Among other things, Sartori Co. was a trailblazer in exporting its cheeses, and in 1970 was the first exporter of U.S. cheese to Japan… and to Italy! Today the fourth-generation family-owned and operated company makes varieties of parmesan, asiago, fontina and romano cheeses.
Passionate about his cheese, CEO Jim Sartori is also passionate about protecting common cheese names.
“In open, global competition in the UK in 2011, our SarVecchio® Parmesan won first place in the Parmesan Cheese Category – even beating out Parmigiano Reggiano, and we remain extremely proud of that,” he said. “Since that time, the UK competition no longer allows Italian and non-Italian versions of parmesan to compete head-to-head, which to us just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
“The work of CCFN is very important,” he continued, “because there’s no other global, organized effort to stand up to the EU’s attempts to own names that really belong to everyone. What happens to these names in the next few years – the decisions made in trade agreements and regulations around the world – will have a real impact on the ability of quality food businesses to compete fairly and successfully, no matter where their business is located.”
Sartori cheese has been honored with numerous awards, medals and ribbons not just for its parmesan, but also for other “common name” cheeses including asiago and fontina.
“Our cheese making process is still very hands-on today. We use a lot of the same techniques we’ve used since day one,” Sartori said. “I believe that’s one way we set ourselves apart from others. We take time to perfect our cheese, whether it’s curing the cheese to the right age or hand-rubbing each treated wheel; we know the love and care we put into making our cheese resonates with those sharing it around the dinner tables.”
Errico Auricchio, BelGioioso Cheese
Errico Auricchio’s family has been making Italian-style cheeses since 1877. Thirty years ago, Errico moved his family from Italy to the United States to start his own cheese company in Green Bay, Wisconsin, making asiago, grana, fontina, mozzarella, gorgonzola, parmesan, provolone and romano.
“From the beginning, I had only one goal – to make great Italian cheeses – and I succeeded. The complete line is made from authentic Italian recipes. We don’t cut corners when making them; that is why each BelGioioso cheese has its own personality,” Auricchio says.
As chairman of the Consortium for Common Food Names, Auricchio notes that it’s “hard to believe we need to defend the right to use common names like parmesan. We have to raise the issue so people are aware of it.”
“This is not just a question of dollars and cents, but of fairness and choice. These are names that are in the public domain. The logical path is to label foods so consumers can choose what they want – whether it’s a product from the valleys of France, Italy or Wisconsin. What matters is that they can choose,” he says.
Auricchio also points out that cheeses such as many he makes have more value to all cheesemakers today because producers around the world have made them, and exposed millions of people to them.
“That’s better for everyone. A protected name without exposure will severely limit sales of that product,” he notes.
“Every cheesemaker should join the consortium, whether they make these styles of cheese today or not, so that they will always be free to produce them in the future. And every consumer association should join because consumers should always have a choice,” he says.
Through the years, BelGioioso cheeses have won many prestigious awards and have set a standard of excellence in the industry.
The company has five state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities located in Wisconsin. Each plant specializes in a specific cheese that is produced there daily by the same cheesemakers. BelGioioso also exports to several countries around the world. http://www.belgioioso.com
Jose L. Vargas Leiton, Corporación Monteverde CR, S.A.
Monteverde Corporation was founded 60 years ago, in an isolated area of Costa Rica. The company has played a critical role in the development and economy of the community.
Monteverde employs over 400 workers in its production and marketing of dairy products. In addition, 450 members, farm workers and their families depend on the company for their livelihood.
The company specializes in the production of mature cheeses such as gouda, edam, provolone, emmenthal and parmesan, among many others.
“We have been producing these products for many decades,” says José L. Vargas Leitón, Gerente General.
“The European Community has been seeking to claw back the common names that we have been using for decades in Costa Rica and Central America by local farmers and immigrants,” he adds. “On this matter, the Consortium plays an essential role and we are proud to be part of it. It is essential to protect the rights of producers and processors to maintain the ability to use generic names such as parmesan. Otherwise, thousands of small and medium-sized producers in Central America will be affected economically.”