With the European parliamentary elections and the UK map turning purple on BBC World news this week, like many politically-aware continental couples, Maurizio and I were hotly debating Europe and national identity, in our case though specifically with reference to cheese.

Parmesan, like Champagne, is one of those foodstuffs that is - as claimed and upheld by law - so inherently and essentially a product of its home town that nobody else could feasibly reproduce it elsewhere, and as a result falls under the legal framework provided by the EU Regulation No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs. Well, I'm not one to flout the law but I think there has to be a bit of leeway. There, I said it. (I must remember to put a disclaimer on the blog to cover controversial posts like this.)

The keen-eyed will notice the small but incendiary 'Wisconsin Cheese' branding on the copper kettle Parmesan below. American Parmesan. That's what lead to the debate: can a cheese not made in Parma ever legitimately be called Parmesan? Sweeter and nuttier than its pureblood predecessor, this is a very very tasty cheese - I'm eating a wedge with my other hand as I type this - easily the best American cheese I've had, and I've choked down a few in the interests of fairness. Of course there a few stand-out producers, but overall the cheese situation stateside is bleak.

How can it be possible that there is something known as 'American cheese'; one type from sea to shining sea, that huge mass of states, cultures and people? England is tiny but referring blanketly to 'English cheese' is unimaginable. Wensleydale, Cheshire, Cheddar: town to town there are variations and innovations. Is anything else in the US so homogenous as its cheese appears to be? Even McDonald's has carb-free options and gourmet coffee now. And American cheese always seems to refer to horrible processed stuff in a can, or a canister. If you're looking for a cheese to represent the nation, it shouldn't be squeezable.

Of all countries, the USA should be allowed to fly in the face of name-protected cheeses. Not because of their size and might but because of their own pitiful domestic cheese offerings. Maybe, strictly speaking, this should be labelled Parmesan-style cheese, but what we're seeing here is a sincere effort to better a country's frankly embarrassing international cheese rep, not by shock and awe, but by using traditional Parmigiana methods and ingredients to create a really good cheese. They should label it, 'Better Than American'.

Peace to all nations.

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  1. Russian cheeses, Brazilian cheeses, Australian cheeses? Do such things exist? Could it be that the bigger the nation, the less variation in its cheese output? And if so, why?

  2. I can tell you that there are excellent Australian cheeses, distinct to the country and with proud regional variations, and I know that South America has some fantastic cheese offerings. Russia I can't vouch for. I suppose the point is, Australia would never say, 'This one variety may be classed as Australian Cheese', in the way that America does. Ref Simpsons Rosebud episode, with its famous 64 slices of American Cheese scene. American Cheese is an actual (if awful) cheese, which is shocking given the size and diversity of America.

    1. Ah, then my theory does not hold. Hm.