In the medals . . . Whitestone Cheese head cheesemaker Chris Moran (left) and managing director Simon Berry. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

Does a feta by any other name taste as good?

This is the conundrum facing New Zealand cheesemakers, who may have to change the names of some of their cheese varieties, if the European Union (EU) gets its way.

New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association spokesman and Whitestone Cheese managing director Simon Berry said the topic has come about because of Brexit, and the EU opening up for trade negotiations with “the world”.

“So now our trade ministers are meeting with the UK as well as the EU, and the EU has turned around and said ‘OK, if we’re renegotiating, we now want to protect these names’ . . . and they’ve come out with a list,” Mr Berry said.

The list had not been implemented yet, but the most common cheeses on it were feta, gruyere and gorgonzola, he said.

“Some of them you look at, and you’re like ‘that’s fair enough’, and then other ones … the main one that jumps out is feta, because it’s really so generic. And you go back to the Italian meaning, it’s Italian for slice.”

It could be an opportunity for New Zealand cheesemakers to make their mark on the industry, but it could also make things more difficult, because people buy the names they recognised, he said.

Whitestone Cheese produced Fuschia Creek Feta, and was in the process of introducing new cheeses – Oamaru Blue and Roundhill, the latter which Mr Berry described as gruyere-like.

“All our cheeses have been named after regional locations because we’ve respected our recipes as our own, and the heritage, and the milk, and ingredients,” he said.

“We do our own recipes, but still, from the consumer’s mind, they might be familiar with the old-world name.

“So this is old world versus new world, just like wine. And we’re the new world producers, and it’s like, what direction is the new world going with its identity?”

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said free trade negotiations were ongoing, with nine rounds having occurred so far.

No completion date was set.

The ministry had been consulting the public about the possible impact of the EU proposals on New Zealand business and that information was fed directly into the negotiation process.

Mr Berry said the EU was very dominant in the cheese industry.

The change presented an opportunity to address an imbalance that existed between imported and local cheeses, and could be the perfect opportunity to promote specialist New Zealand cheese for the association’s members.

subsidise on-farm over there. And they want to push the European products that are subsidised down to our market, and they’re flooding our supermarket shelves, and they’re cheaper.

“So they’re saying ‘we want more of that, and by the way, feta is going to be known as our EU feta, or Greek feta’.

“As an industry, maybe we should stand on our own two feet … come up with a name for a New Zealand-only feta recipe, that is made with New Zealand milk and we give it it’s own trademark, it’s own name.”

The key would be getting a new name out there, and making it recognisable as from New Zealand.

“Influencers might use it on social media, restaurants name it on their menu, and it’s like, that’.”

People would see the name feta, and recognise it as an import.

“There’s lots of opportunity in it.”