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Tariffs, quotas, and balance sheets may be the dull gristle of international trade, but a disagreement over a beloved cheese has sparked sharp words and delayed sealing of an important trade deal between the EU and Mexico.
The Global Agreement trade talks stalled over demands by Spanish producers of manchego cheese who want Mexican producers to stop using the name “manchego” for a different variety of cheese produced in Mexico. The Spanish cheese makers cite “denomination of origin” in support of their claim to exclusive rights to the name.
Spanish manchego is a sheep’s milk cheese produced in the country’s La Mancha region. It’s aged between 60 days and two years, has a firm, compact consistency, and often contains small, unevenly distributed air pockets. Mexican manchego is made from cow’s milk. Its taste and texture is similar to butter, ideal for Mexican food such as quesadillas. It’s much cheaper than Spanish manchego (El País).
Ismael Álvarez de Toledo, president of the Spanish Brotherhood of the Manchego Cheese, told The Guardian that confusion over the cheese’s name and origin has led to monetary losses for Spanish producers.
“[Mexican manchego] is an insipid cow’s milk cheese that sometimes doesn’t even look like a cheese because it sometimes comes in slices for making sandwiches,” he said. “The only thing it’s got in common with our cheese is the name. But it’s a fake name.”
At least one Mexican official blames the confusion on Spanish conquistadores who brought the name manchego to Mexico.
“What other name would they use except something from their country of origin?” René Fonseca, general director of the National Milk Industries’ Chamber told The Guardian. “Europeans themselves gave it this name. There’s no attempt here to trick anyone.”
The row is threatening approval of the free trade agreement between the EU and Mexico. Negotiations to modernize the deal began in May 2016 (Mexico Daily News).
Miguel Ángel García Paredes, president of Mexico’s Canilec dairy industry association, told Spanish newspaper El País, that the country’s authorities have reached agreement with EU negotiators about continuing sales of Mexican brie, camembert, gouda, and mozzarella, among other European cheese varieties. But the fight over manchego remains unresolved.