Wednesday, 17 April 2024 08:55

Cheesemakers may need new cheese names under FTA

Written by  Jessica Marshall
Barrys Bay award-winning Gruyere cheese. Barrys Bay award-winning Gruyere cheese.

The owner of an award-winning cheese producer says the Government’s free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU) has proven disappointing for the sector.

Daniel Shields, owner of Barry’s Bay Dairy Company, says that at first glance the FTA looks okay for the company, but the wider issue will be how the market handles the issues of geographical indications (GIs).

The company has a long history, beginning in 1895. Shields says the company’s current factory was built in the 1950s by a farmer cooperative.

“The cooperative closed it down in the dairy industry restructuring in the early eighties and the then factory manager – Don Walker – reopened the business.”

Originally, the factory made a single type of cheddar cheese for the Dairy Board, but then proceeded to experiment with other types of cheeses.

“With help from other early premium cheese pioneers – notably Albert Alferink from Mercer Cheese – the factory branched into European wheel cheeses such as Gouda and Maasdam and also the semi-soft Havarti,” Shields says.

The business was then sold to Mike and Catherine Carey who took the business into grocery stores, and then, in 2017, Daniel and wife Amy purchased the company.

Barrys Bay won eight gold awards at the recent at the New Zealand Champion of Cheese Awards last month, bringing home awards for its Aged Cheddar, Chilli Cheddar, Cumin Spice Cheddar, Peppered Havarti, Smoked Rinded Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyere, and Maasdam.

Shields says he’s delighted to pick up eight gold awards at the competition this year.

“What’s really pleasing is that we did this across all of the different cheese types we make – cheddars, European wheel cheeses and semi-soft havartis,” he told Dairy News.

“It’s the payoff for some hard work we’ve done in production quality and also cheese aging – known as affinage.”

“With great cheese coming out of the vat, we’re taking the time to let that cheese mature and develop really delicious flavours,” he adds.

At the same time, the geographical indications included in the EU FTA are set to impact the company.

Shields says that while both Gruyere and Parmesan – two cheeses Barrys Bay won awards for this year – have grandparenting clauses, meaning if the company can show five years of prior use the names can continue to be used, no new manufacturers can use them.

“It is going to be very confusing for consumers to know that my Gruyere is equivalent to someone else’s ‘Fondue style cheese’,” Shields says. “Because of the ‘evocation’ and ‘passing off’ rules the people who can’t use the names can’t just use terms like ‘Swiss style’ or make up a name like ‘Gruyeah’.”

He says GIs became a bargaining chip to gain better access for other industry sectors to the European market.

“Conversely, in New Zealand the FTA essentially gives European producers and their agents in this country a monopoly on the Gruyere, Parmesan, Feta and Gorgonzola market segments,” he explains.

“The cost and effort now falls on the New Zealand dairy industry to come up with a new naming convention for these products and educate the domestic market on the new names.

“We are hoping for some government support in this transition but [are] wary of the general belt-tightening in the public service at the moment.”

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