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Mamma Mia! Italians are fuming at Austrian-Chinese mozzarella

Copyright Authentico
By Jonny Walfisz
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One of Italy’s most celebrated cheeses has just had an Austrian-Chinese makeover, and some Italians are very upset about it.


Mozzarella is one of Italy’s most identifiable cheeses. 

Its place on pizzas is second to none, and it is the crucial element in the margherita pizza and the caprese salad - both devised to represent the white, red and green colours of Italy’s flag.

But a new brand of Mozzarella cheese is sparking anger among Italian foodies and right-wing politicians. 

A packet of European Mozzarella Cheese with a label stating it is “Cheese from Austria” is the culprit. Much of the packaging information is in Simplified Chinese and has images of the Tower of Pisa and Venice’s Rialto bridge.

Made by GaoFu Foods, a Chinese manufacturer producing the cheese in Austria, this sliced Mozzarella is very removed from the Italian original. Italian food authenticator site Authentico notes the cheese has been spotted in China, US, Canada, Brazil, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan, and Australia.

Tommaso Razzolini, a right-wing politician for the Brothers of Italy party has taken the case to the country’s ministry of agriculture and food sovereignty.

“I have reported to the ministerial authority what seems to be yet another case of counterfeiting to the damage of Italian agri-food excellence, as well as the exploitation of the image of Venice and our Veneto,” he wrote on Facebook.

He notes the use of the “Grande Canal, a gondola and the Rialto Bridge, as well as the Tower of Pisa,” in his post as “monuments recognizable by anyone, used to sell questionable mozzarella.”

The sale of the cheese is not definitively illegal though. The EU protects many product names from being produced outside of their designated regions. Foods have this protection through what is called a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

Examples of PDOs include Italian cheese like Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), which can only be produced in the Parma or Reggiano Emilia regions of Italy.

The scale of the counterfeit market for Italian foods is €120bn according to Coldiretti, Italy’s biggest agricultural association. This figure includes foods like Parmigiano Reggiano.

Ettore Prandini, the president of Coldiretti, told The Guardian that European Mozzarella Cheese was “one of the worst examples of identity theft”.

“Products such as this confuse consumers and steal markets away from real Italian foods,” he added.

Razzolini claims that his country’s imagery and products are being exploited. And while you might think he’s clearly right given PDOs, mozzarella isn’t protected in the same way parmesan is.

The name “Mozzarella” alone doesn’t have a PDO, given that it doesn’t refer to any particular area of Italy. In face, a large proportion of mozzarella worldwide isn’t produced in Italy, although it will likely conform to the traditional production methods, to accord with an EU protection scheme.

Italian buffalo are present throughout the country and so the cheese is produced throughout Italy and not in a single specific region. However, the specific cheese “mozzarella di bufala campana” does have a PDO as the mozzarella produced from buffalo in the Campania Lazio, Apulia, and Molise regions of Italy.

As the cheese has been seen in EU countries such as France, Italy and Germany, there may be a legal case that the cheese has infringed intellectual property laws by falsely creating the impression of being produced in Italy because of the pictures of the country’s tourist sites. The label pointing out that it is “from Austria” would likely be the company’s defence in that case. Either way, no legal case has been officially made.

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