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World Dairy Expo Announces Grand Champion Dairy Products

The World Dairy Expo, sponsored by the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association, announced the winners of the 2013 Championship Dairy Product Contest. This year, the competition received a record 820 entries. All category first place winners were auctioned off at the World Dairy Expo, held Oct. 1-5 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis.

Among the winners, Sartori Company, based in Plymouth, Wis., was selected as the Cheese and Butter Grand Champion. Upstate Niagara Co-op, based in Buffalo, N.Y., was selected as the Grade A Grand Champion. And Gifford’s Dairy, based in Skowhegan, Maine, was the Ice Cream Grand Champion. This year’s contest judged the best of the best in a number of dairy categories, including cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, sour cream, sherbet, cultured milk, sour cream, whipping cream, dried whey and creative/innovative products. Dairies from across North America submitted their products for consideration.

Emmi Roth USA received two awards at the 2013 Championship Dairy Product Contest, including a first place win for Roth Hot Chili Gouda in the Flavored Natural Cheese category. Roth Hot Chili Gouda is a new introduction for the company and will be available to customers in the coming months. This rich, buttery Gouda is infused with a special blend of three peppers for just the right amount of heat. “As consumers continue to look for bold flavors, Emmi Roth USA is excited to offer another specialty cheese with a spicy kick,” said Linda Duwve, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Emmi Roth USA.

It is amazing how dairy manufacturers have embraced this contest,” said Brad Legreid, Executive Director of WDPA. “Due to the tremendous support from dairy companies throughout North America, the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest has averaged a 15 per cent annual rate of growth over its first eleven years. This is unprecedented growth for a dairy product contest. This growth is a direct reflection of the high level of interest that dairy processors have in entering the only judging contest of its kind in North America. Because this contest is all-encompassing, dairy manufacturers have the unique opportunity to compete in a prestigious, all-dairy national contest.”

The contest’s auction was held at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, where all category first place winners were auctioned off. A portion of the proceeds from the auction were donated to be used to fund various scholarships. A number of scholarships are awarded annually to deserving students pursuing careers in the dairy industry.

For more information on the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest and to inquire about submitting products for the 2014 contest, contact the Association by email at

Slow Cheese Festival Unites 150,000 Cheese Lovers for Massive Bra, Italy Exposition

By Alicynn King

CheeseFestival1-CSAs you stroll down the street in Bra, you can catch a glimpse of the Alps as if they are growing out of the terra cotta roofs that are so characteristic of the Italian countryside. The cobblestone streets are adorned with charming boutiques, wine shops, cafes and specialty markets. Bra is the quintessential, quaint, picturesque town that fills the pages of guidebooks. However, from Sept. 20-23, Bra was anything but quaint, as more than 150,000 cheese aficionados came to the town to taste, discuss and enjoy thousands of cheeses from around the world.

The Slow Cheese Festival happens every two years in Bra, Italy, a town in the northern Piedmont region that is the birthplace of Slow Food International, an organization that promotes gastronomic diversity and the connections between food, culture and the environment. This year’s ninth edition of the biannual event featured a variety of workshops and dinner dates, as well as the Ark of Taste Project, a project that invites individuals to nominate cheeses from around the world that are in severe danger of being lost to standardization within the industry.

The Slow Cheese Festival attracts a wide range of attendees. Although many of those in attendance work in the dairy and cheese industry, a beer tent, wine enoteca and street food carts help elevate this event to more than just an industry show. The crowds swell as hungry cheese connoisseurs converge on the city for four days of food and frivolity.

CheeseFestival2-CSTents opened at 10 a.m. and closed at 11 p.m. each day, allowing ample time to taste and talk. On Saturday and Sunday, Italians brought their families to enjoy street performers and educational events geared towards entertaining kids. Friday and Monday, however, remained days of business, as distributors sat down with cheesemongers to arrange business deals and discuss the details of importing.

What makes this event unique is the ability to sit directly with the cheese maker her or himself and discuss the product. Although massive in scope, the intimate nature of the event facilitates this one-on-one interaction.

Throughout the event, free workshops were also held at many of the booths. For example, at one such workshop, participants discussed the differences between pasta filata cheeses in the Puglia region of Italy. At another, those in attendance analyzed the pairing potential between Parmigiano-Reggiano and artisanal beers. In general, this year’s workshops stressed the importance of telling the product’s story, highlighting why each particular product is so important to the industry.

At workshops on milk, participants discussed the issues surrounding raw milk, starter cultures, animal welfare and pasteurization. And guided tastings such as “The Rediscovery of Regional Cheeses of the United Kingdom” were held throughout the four days, in which attendees dove deeper into particular categories of cheese. With thousands of cheeses from around the world being showcased, those lucky enough to be at this year’s event found themselves indulging in an astonishing variety as they wandered from stand to stand.

While Slow Cheese Festival attendee Jesse Schwartzburg, from Tony Fine Foods, has represented many Italian products over the years, this was his first time on Italian soil. Schwartzburg marveled at the variety and depth of products at the festival. He also had the opportunity to meet with producers and visit nearby farms.

“Over the years, I have realized that I have left so much of the story out. Being here I have heard more of the story,” he said. “To understand [cheese], to drink it with Barbera while eating the Toma Della Rocca Robiola, you understand the regionality of the product.”

In addition to the wealth of Italian cheeses, the selection of international cheeses at the event spanned three blocks. Representing the United States at the event was cheese and specialty foods distributor Gourmet Foods International. This was the fourth Slow Cheese Festival in which GFI has participated. This year, the distributor highlighted Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery in California, Cremont from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery in Vermont, Rouge River Blue from Rouge Creamery in Oregon, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont and Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin.

This year, the GFI booth was so popular with consumers and industry members alike that they were one of the few producers that sold out of product by the end of the festival Several European restaurant owners even inquired about how to purchase American cheeses for import.

For many of the European attendees, this was their first real encounter with American cheeses. Giuseppe De Ceseare was in attendance as a translator during the festival, working for the Gourmet Foods International booth. De Ceseare was intrigued by the level of excitement surrounding the cheeses.

“The United States has such big producers that most people don’t know or see the small artisan producers,” he said.

Cheese Festival 018Cow Girl Creamery has had the opportunity to showcase their cheeses at four Slow Cheese Festivals. This was the second year that company co-founder Sue Conley attended the event. For Conley, she values the biannual festival as an opportunity to share her cheeses with a broader audience and to taste what others are making.

“We get to taste cheeses from people we have admired,” Conley said.

The Slow Cheese Festival is an event unlike any other. Filled with a variety of educational opportunities and cheeses, it is the perfect blend of fun and business. For those who are lucky enough to be able to come to Bra, they will surely have an unparalleled opportunity to learn more of the story behind the cheeses they love.

To learn more about 2013 festival and hear about upcoming plans for 2015, visit

The Label Wars: When Governments Define a Product, Some Win and Some Lose

FoodLabeling2-CSBy Lucas Witman

Last year, when media reports emerged that many Greek yogurts on the U.S. market contain additives that are not customarily introduced to the authentic product, many consumers ran to their refrigerators and combed through the ingredients listings on the labels of their favorite brands. Traditionally, Greek yogurt is produced by straining yogurt in cheesecloth to remove the whey, resulting in a thicker, more protein-rich product. Some companies, however, have begun adding thickeners like corn and tapioca starch to achieve this desired consistency. The result is often indistinguishable from the authentic product. However, the problem for many is that true Greek yogurt and the technologically enhanced version are often indistinguishable on store shelves. Both types of products can be labeled “Greek yogurt,” with no requirement that they identify on the front label when additives have been introduced.

The Greek yogurt controversy is just one example of a widening concern among U.S. consumers about how their products are being labeled. Unlike in some European countries where governing bodies more clearly define how foods must be labeled, U.S. companies have considerably more leeway in how they define themselves for consumers. As a result, many companies that produce Greek yogurt, but also olive oil, cheese, wine, meat, coffee and more have been criticized for misleading consumers into purchasing something that is somehow different from what they might expect.

When it comes to food labeling, a particular product may represent much more than just a potential profit to those who produce it. Many products are in fact reflections of cultural identity. Especially for foods and beverages that are tied to a specific region or nation, these items are often symbols of that place, highly valued and protected by those who live there. Thus, when a company reinvents the authentic components and methods behind products like Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Greek yogurt, the result can be damaging to those who are intrinsically tied to the real deal.

Nobody understands this threat more than the Europeans. For this reason, European governments have created a number of different food appellation systems that serve to carefully define different products and lay out how they must be labeled. In France, wines, cheeses, butters and agricultural products labeled AOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) must adhere to standards that have been clearly defined by the government. In Italy, produce, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cured meats and cheeses labeled DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) are similarly protected. Italy offers a second appellation system for wines, labeling them DOCG (Controlled Designation of Origin Guaranteed), DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and IGT (Typical Geographic Indication). The European Union offers its own appellation for food and wine as well, designating certain products that meet its standards for authenticity as AOP (Appellation of Protected Origin). A number of other European countries have their own government-regulated appellation systems in place as well.


The benefits of appellation systems

Appellation systems offer the producers of certain foods, wines and agricultural products a number of advantages in the markets in which they are enforced. Perhaps most importantly, when governmental agencies monitor these products and enforce a certain standard, it protects the overall quality of the item. A consumer who purchases a DOP Balsamico di Modena, for example, can be assured that the vinegar inside the bottle is of a certain quality.

FoodLabeling1-CSMore than simply conferring quality on a product, however, these appellation systems also protect the economic and cultural traditions behind it. For example, although it may be easier and cheaper to change the recipe or production process behind Parmigiano-Reggiano, if a company wants to label the product as AOP, it must be made in the traditional manner.

In addition, for a region or country that relies heavily on a product either as a source of revenue or as a draw for tourism, these appellations ensure that another region or country can not lay claim to that same product. The French Champagne region, for example, has a significant economic interest in ensuring that it is the only place where its eponymous sparking wine can be produced.

One company that is particularly supportive of the EU-granted AOP appellation is Le Gruyère AOP, maker of authentic Gruyère cheese from Switzerland. Gruyère cheese has its origins in the Middle Ages. The cheese has been produced in its current state with its current recipe since 1115 A.D. Le Gruyère AOP is extremely proud of its long history and cheers the AOP appellation for preserving tradition.

“An AOP is really linked to your territory (because your base [of your product] is the origin and the landscape) and is actually a protection for your history,” said Philippe Bardet, Director of Interprofession du Gruyère AOP. “Sometimes we really think we are like in the old times, on a horse fighting to save our lives. Like the guardians of the temple, we fight to protect [our product] from copies and innovations.”

“At Le Gruyère AOP, we are known to be one of the most strict in Switzerland, but we know that the final quality of your product is what makes the consumer buy your product,” Bardet continued.

According to Bardet, his association has suffered losses, both financially and in terms of product reputation, when lesser companies in Europe, Russia, South Africa and elsewhere have made and marketed inferior cheeses under the name “Gruyère,” The AOP designation helps Le Gruyère protect its name and its product. Bardet said there has now been about a month of trademark protection for the cheese in the United States, and that the team at Le Gruyère is intent on legal action to protect the usurpation of the name.

“There is a big loss for our product, our producers and, in fact, at the end, the consumers, when you have a cheese sold under the Gruyère name that has no taste and no character,” Bardet said.

Outside Europe, government-regulated appellation systems are less common, and this has been a problem for many specialty food companies whose authentic products are in competition with lesser quality imitators. For example, authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is a highly prized version of the popular beverage, and that popularity has given birth to a number of inferior quality coffee blends falsely usurping this title.

“Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee has a long and famous tradition of being the best coffee in the world because of its quality,” said Jamaican Senator Norman Grant, Managing Director and CEO of Mavis Bank Coffee Factory Limited, Jamaica’s largest Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee processing facility. “Grown at the highest elevation in Jamaica, in the Blue Mountain range in the parishes of St. Thomas, St. Andrew and Portland, the product is clean in the cup…The traditional characteristic of the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is intense in its aroma with a medium body—mellow, floral—and chocolatey taste.”

Senator Grant argues that too often, customers purchasing a product labeled Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee may not be getting the real thing. “There are some companies that try to market Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee all over the world but without meeting the prescribed quality standard,” he said.

However, authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee producers are working hard to remedy this situation. “The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica has implemented a Trademark User License agreement where companies trading should sign a trademark user agreement,” Grant said. “Where this is not done, companies that breach this can be penalized or be sued.”

The government of Jamaica has gotten involved as well, taking the first steps to protect the name through a European-style appellation system. The Jamaican government, working with the Coffee Industry Board is working to enforce geographic standards, designating the official boundaries within which products labeled Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee can be cultivated. Although this is a work in progress, Senator Grant hopes that, over time, it will help to protect the product.


The downside

Despite the clear benefits that food and drink producers, consumers and entire regions garner from government-regulated appellation systems, critics argue that there are good reasons to eschew such systems.

First, in clearly defining what a product is, what must go into it and how it must be produced, the product is essentially standardized. As a result, producers who may want to approach the item in an innovative way may be stymied from doing so. If Salame Piacentino, for example, must be made with a specific seasoning blend, a company that wants to label its product as authentic Salame Piacentino will be prohibited from changing that recipe.

Another problem some have with these appellation systems is that they often favor larger more established companies, negatively impacting smaller independent producers. While it may be relatively easy for a major cheese company to follow the government’s strict standards and achieve EU certification for all of its products, a small Emmenthal producer may not be able to afford to follow these standards. In addition, she may not have the resources at her disposal to get required approval from the EU.

Finally, some connoisseurs of food and drink argue that these labels too often confer quality on products that have not earned it on the basis of their culinary merit alone. In short, simply because a cheese or sausage or olive oil or mushroom has earned the right to be labeled AOP or AOC or DOP does not mean that it is necessarily a “fine food.” Many simple agrarian staples, for example, long eaten as a means of subsistence, have developed unwarranted reputations as gastronomic delicacies simply by virtue of their appellation.

Responding to the criticism that the AOP appellation pushes smaller producers out of the production process, Bardet argues that this system is extremely welcoming and helpful to independent producers of Gruyère cheese. “We don’t think it is undemocratic,” he said. “The Gruyère AOP now represents 6,000 independents and is still accepting new ones. If anyone wants to come in, he can as long as he respect the rules.”

Senator Grant similarly argues that efforts by the Jamaican government to regulate Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee will not have a deleterious effect on small producers in the region, but rather would equally protect all producers of the beverage, regardless of size. “This, in my view, would not affect Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee business and small companies,” he said. “The main focus would be on the producers in the country of origin and…authenticating those companies who handle the brand.”

Regarding the criticism that appellation systems inhibit innovation, Bardet concedes that this is a necessary aspect of protecting the history behind his association’s product. “With an AOP, you are protected but also limited—no innovation is allowed,” he said. “We are the guardian of a history, a tradition.”

However, Bardet still argues that it is unfair to state that the AOP appellation in any way standardizes Gruyère. “In our opinion, this argument is not true,” he said. “If our product would be standardized it would be made in one big factory…We protect the producers…and want them to stay independent , with their know-how. This is the key.”


To follow in the footsteps of Europe?

From many producers of fine food and drink, both in the United States and around the world, a common lament is heard that they do not receive enough protection for their product when sold in this country. Until recently, this was the case for Le Gruyère, who just this year finally received trademark protection from the U.S. government. Many other companies, however, have not been as successful in protecting their unique products’ names and identities in the U.S. market, making it difficult to distinguish their authentic offerings from lesser imitators.

Still, in many ways, the U.S. specialty foods market potentially offers producers of gourmet products more unrestricted opportunities to craft truly one-of-a-kind products, outside the oversight of a governing body.

In addition, eschewing the bureaucracy associated with a government-regulated appellation system helps open the market up to more producers. Thus, the benefits of the European appellations must be weighted against the benefits of the freer, more open U.S. specialty food marketplace.

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