Spanish cheese makers defend Manchego

Spanish cheese makers defend Manchego

In central Spain, the arid plains of La Mancha are famous for their windmills and Manchego, a cheese made out of ewe's milk that is one of the best-known representatives of the country's gastronomy.

But local producers there are furious with Mexico which they accuse of "crude plagiarism" of their cheese, an issue so touchy it has become a point of discord in drawn-out talks for a new trade deal between the EU and the Latin American country.

"We have to defend our Manchego tooth and nail," says Francisco Tejado, walking through the factory of Spain's biggest cheese producer, Garcia Baquero, in the small town of Alcazar de San Juan, some 150 km south of Madrid.

Tejado, in charge of the ripening stage of the cheese-making process, says he comes to the plant every day to "watch, touch, pamper these cheeses, these living foods" that are maturing in air-conditioned rooms.

Manchego is an EU Protected Designation of Origin (AOC) product, which is respected within the bloc but not always further afield.

And in Mexico, in particular, manufacturers have used the names of several "European cheeses, including Manchego, to reap profit from crude plagiarism," complains Santiago Altares, head of the group that gives out AOC labels to Manchego producers.

The original and the copy, he stresses, are completely different.

"The Mexican Manchego is made from cow's milk within seven days, and the authentic Manchego with the milk of ewes of 'Manchega' race, is ripened for at least a month." Such is the controversy over the matter that it has been one of the issues in talks aimed at sealing a new version of an 18-year-old trade deal between the EU and Mexico.

The Europeans want exclusive right to the "Manchego" name, along with other products.

But that is a problem for cheese producers in Latin America's second-largest economy, where Mexican Manchego represents nearly 15 % of total cheese sales.

So the National Chamber of Dairy Industries in Mexico has said it will continue using Manchego as a name, which it says is "generic".

More than 700 Spanish farmers and 65 producers depend on the cheese for their livelihood.

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