Spain and Mexico feud over Manchego cheese

FLICKR / CHRISTOPHER BROWN

Authentic Spanish-made Manchego cheese on display in a deli.

Spanish cheesemakers defend Manchego from Mexican “plagiarised” cheese.


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The usually warm relations between Spain and Mexico have soured in recent days as the two Hispanophone nations are locked in a feud over the naming rights of one of Spain’s most iconic food products and hindering talks of a new trade deal between the EU and Mexico City.

Madrid has demanded that it have exclusive rights to the name Manchego, in reference to a traditional ewe’s milk cheese from Spain’s central Castilla-La Mancha region. Manchego is an artisanal product that requires a specific ageing process and milk to meet the EU’s protected designation of origin requirements (PDO).

According to Santiago Altares, head of a group that awards PDO labels to Manchego cheese producers, the Mexican cheese is made from cow’s milk and produced within seven days, whereas authentic Manchego is made from ewes and aged for at least a month.

Mexico produces a mass-produced generic variety of white cow’s milk cheese under the Manchego name that bears little resemblance to the actual La Manchan product, makes up 15 percent of all sales using the Manchego name.

This has infuriated Spanish producers, who insist that Mexico needs to stop using the name as their products are severely damaging Spanish cheese sales in the US because Mexico’s products are far cheaper than their original Spanish counterparts.

Mexico’s National Chamber of Dairy Industries has refused to budge on the issue, saying it will continue using the Manchego name as it simply implies a generic type of white cheese, not a regional or artisanal product. Culinary regulations for the designation of origin are nearly non-existent in Mexico and are far less emphasised than in the EU.

In recent years, Brussels has won the backing of European producers who want to exclusively label regional products in an effort to preserve their authenticity and to protect producers involved in certain food and beverage industries.

In the case of Manchego production, over 700 Spanish farmers and 65 producers in the La Mancha region are a part of the indigenous industry that is based on the production and sale of the cheese. More than 15,000 tonnes of Manchego is produced every year, with more than 60 percent exported abroad.

The spat between Spain and Mexico over the designation of Manchego as a specific regional product is similar to past feuds between EU members and those outside the bloc who produce products that have been recognised by Brussels as qualifying for a protected designation of origin.

Russia and other former Soviet republics have long been at loggerheads with the EU over the use of the terms “cognac” and “champagne” – two items that are popular in post-Soviet states – as well as mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese after Moscow was put under economic sanctions in 2014.  The items are all made locally and do not match the EU’s protected designation standards.

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