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Tuesday, November 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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U.S. consumers snap up Italian Parmesan before tariffs hit

Parmigiano Reggiano Parmesan cheese producer Gianni Bertinelli inspects wheels stored in Noceto, near Parma, Italy, on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (Associated Press)
Parmigiano Reggiano Parmesan cheese producer Gianni Bertinelli inspects wheels stored in Noceto, near Parma, Italy, on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (Associated Press)
By Colleen Barry Associated Press

MILAN – U.S. consumers who appreciate the tang of aged Italian Parmesan cheese as an aperitif or atop their favorite pasta dish are stocking up ahead of next week’s tariff hike and as dairy producers in the two countries square off.

The Italian agricultural lobby Coldiretti said Friday that sales of both Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, aged cheeses with a distinctive granular quality that are defined by their territory of origin, have skyrocketed in the United States by 220% since the higher tariffs were announced one week ago.

The new tariffs – up from $2.15 to about $6 per 2.2 pounds, equal to a kilogram – take effect on Oct. 18. Parmesan cheese is on a long list of EU products targeted by the Trump administration for retaliatory tariffs approved by the World Trade Organization for illegal EU subsidies to aviation giant Airbus.

Coldiretti says American consumers as a result will pay more than $45 a kilogram, instead of $40 – which is expected to hurt sales in the United States, the second-largest export market after France.

Nicola Bertinelli, president of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese consortium, said the tariffs threaten the economic health of 330 small dairy producers in the area around Parma and the 50,000 people who work in the production supply chain.

“I believe that … Europe has understood that this is a commercial attack,” Bertinelli told the Associated Press this week.

The consortium produces 3.7 million Parmesan wheels a year, each weighing an average of 88 pounds and aged from more than 18 months to over 30 months.

Parmigiano Reggiano is produced in a defined territory from the Apennine mountains to the Po River from the milk of 250,000 cows raised in the same territory to earn its “protected designation origin,” a label given to specialty foods from a specific geographic region.

The U.S. National Milk Producers Federation has welcomed the tariffs on the Italian cheese, saying U.S. producers have been improperly blocked from selling their “common name” Parmesan in Europe, contributing to a $1.6 billion dairy trade deficit with the EU.

The milk producers’ lobby said the use of “geographic indication,” like Parmigiano Reggiano, has been “abused” to limit competition of cheese imports from the United States into the EU. It argues that Europe should allow the “high-quality American-made foods” using common names to compete next to the products certified with “protected origin” names.

But Italy’s agriculture minister, Teresa Bellanova, vowed to protect Italian businesses against imports of what she sees as copycat products.

“Hands off our names, enough identity theft,” Bellanova said last week. “U.S. producers want to upend reality and use common names to sell their products in Europe. If their project is to sell fake Parmesan or mozzarella in Europe, we have to make clear it will never happen.”

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