What do you think about when you lie awake during sleepless nights? If you’re me, you think about cheese pirates.
For some reason I couldn’t get this story out of my head last night. I remember reading about it a few months ago. The EU is cracking down on Mexican-made Manchego cheese, insisting that in order for a cheese to be called Manchego it must be made under certain conditions in the original region of central Spain, using sheep’s milk. Like Champagne and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the EU argues that the name of this product is inextricably linked to a place. Cheaper versions of the cheese, they insist, must be called by another name. After all, these pirated variations are simply not real Manchego.
I remember having this debate in an international economics class while discussing the consequences of global integration, particularly in terms of maintaining culture and heritage products in Europe like German beer and French cheese. On one side of the argument, if a producer from another continent is able to make delicious Champagne or Stilton cheese for cheaper than the originals, why shouldn’t they? Aren’t consumers better off if they have access to a more diverse market? On the other hand, in terms of preserving tradition and culture, doesn’t it harm the original creators of the product to have multiple, dilluted versions available across the world at a lower quality and therefore a lower price?
I’m not quite sure where I stand on the issue. I hope I’ll be able to find affordable Manchego cheese in the US once I leave Spain, whether or not I have to access it from cheese pirates. I’m also still transfixed on the fact that there’s something called the Spanish Brotherhood of Manchego Cheese. If Mexican Manchego producers are cheese pirates, are these people the Templar Knights of cheese?
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