The Court of Justice of the European Union decided on Thursday that Denmark violated EU law by allowing Danish companies to sell cheese called “feta” outside of the EU.
Feta cheese has been considered Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product for twenty years. This official designation means that Feta is a protected product that can only be made in Greece, and cheeses that were not made in the country according to specific guidelines cannot be labeled “feta” by other EU countries.
The case against Denmark was brought to the court by the European Commission, which was backed by Greece and Cyprus three years ago.
Denmark violated EU law after selling “feta” cheese
At the time, Greece formally requested that the European Commission investigate Denmark’s use of the word feta. Feta is an “iconic” Greek product, the Greek Agriculture Ministry said at the time, adding that Denmark had “refused to cooperate” with European Union regulations.
Greece claimed that the country also allowed Danish producers to manufacture “imitation feta” and to export “imitation EU cheeses” to non-EU countries.
The European Court formally announced on Thursday that the term “feta” can only be used for cheese made in Greece according to strict guidelines, as it is a PDO product.
Denmark admitted that their cheeses were labelled as feta, but argued that selling the products to countries outside of the EU did not violate the law, as it did not mention exports. However, the EU’s highest court found that exports are also included in PDO laws on Thursday.
Feta an iconic Greek cheese
Feta is a crumbly, soft white cheese with a tangy flavor. It is created by placing the curdled milk mixture into wooden barrels. The curdled mixture is very compact and must be sliced in order to fit into the barrels. The name feta, Greek for “slice,” most likely comes from this practice.
After sitting in the barrels for a few days, the cheese curds are placed in brine, a salty water solution, which is essential in creating the cheese’s iconic flavor.
Feta is used in many Greek dishes, but most notably in the Greek salad, or horiatiki, and baked goods such as spanakopita and tiropita.
Cheese-making is an ancient practice in the Mediterranean, with the production of cheese from goat’s or sheep’s milk dating back to the 8th century BCE in Greece.
A cheese resembling feta is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. In this ancient literary work, the Cyclops Polyphemus is described as a shepherd who lives with a cave full of cheese and milk taken from his flock.
Most often, feta is made from a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk, but there are variations in production, as it can also be made with just sheep’s milk.