New Zealand-made cheeses could face renaming under new EU rules

There could be some new names on your cheeseboards in summers to come if the European Union gets its way. It wants to stop Kiwi cheesemakers from using names like feta and gorgonzola.

This creamy cheese has been in development at Whitestone for the last two years, using a unique mould strain found in North Otago.

"When we talk about it, it's like that style of a gorgonzola, but we're calling it Oamaru blue because it's here from Oamaru," says Simon Berry, managing director of Whitestone Cheese and spokesperson for New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association.

Developing unique varieties is set to become more important. The European Union wants to ban other countries from using 'their' cheese names in local products.

"So if we're producing a gruyere here in New Zealand, we're going to have to change our names once these negotiations come through," Berry says.

Feta and gorgonzola are other popular cheeses on the EU's branding hit list along with other regional products.

But rather than fighting a losing battle, Berry thinks specialty cheesemakers should see it as an opportunity.

There's potential for Kiwi cheesemakers to embrace their local raw ingredients, and develop some characteristically Kiwi varieties across the industry.

Just like wine, local environment impacts the flavours.

"So the grass that's produced in those regions through the cows, flow directly into the flavours of cheese," Berry says.

The industry's also keeping an eye on free trade negotiations with the EU. Right now, we import a lot more cheese than the Europeans take from us.

"And when you consider we're five million people and they're 400 million, the trade imbalance per head is massive," Dairy Companies Association NZ chair Malcolm Bailey says.

The EU's offering a tiny quota to New Zealand producers while hiking our prices with huge tariffs.

"The access being offered by the Europeans to New Zealand is at a level of being virtually insulting," Bailey says.

Creating new tastes one way of growing international demand encouraging more people to sink their teeth into a Kiwi cheese.