By Jackson Russell
The City of Whittlesea has thrown its support behind local cheesemakers to fight a proposed free-trade agreement between Australia and the European Union that would remove geographical indicators from local cheese.
Deputy mayor Tom Joseph moved a motion at last week’s council meeting that council calls on the Federal Government to protect specialty cheese-makers and manufacturers by ensuring any agreement doesn’t include geographic indicators.
Council will write to local federal members and senators, the State Government including ministers for Small Business and Agriculture, and advocacy groups to seek active support.
The inclusion of geographic indicators in the free-trade agreement would prohibit the use of names such as feta, parmesan, halloumi and taleggio on cheese products, as well as names like prosecco on wines.
Cr Joseph said he would like to see the Federal Government take the same approach as the United States, which used names like ‘American feta’.
The council meeting was attended by all six cheesemakers in the City of Whittlesea, including representatives from Floridia, Montefiore and That’s Amore.
Floridia Cheese dates back to when Mauro and Carmela Montalto and their three sons migrated to Australia from Sicily in 1952, bring in their cheese-making skills from their hometown of Floridia.
After making cheeses for neighbours, friends and a local grocer, demand grew to the point they purchased a small factory in Bundoora in 1955 where Floridia Cheese was born.
Floridia Cheese operates under the tagline ‘Traditionally Italian – Proudly Australian’ and has won a swag of awards, including champion cheese-maker in 2017 and 2018.
Floridia Cheese director and namesake grandson Mauro Montalto said the plans to restrict the names of his cheeses were ‘diabolical’.
“Take parmesan for example, which is a core part of our range, if we couldn’t call it parmesan, we’d have to rename our whole range, re-establish a new brand and the other thing that the EU would be able to do is bring cheese in with no tariffs,” he said.
“They’ll be able to flood the market with a branded product called parmesan against us with a new product that nobody knows so they’ll virtually have a captive market.
“There’s a whole list of products that would be affected.”
Mr Montalto said he wasn’t sure if Floridia would survive if it was unable to use traditional names.
“We would employ 70-100 people just at our factory alone and let’s not forget the supply chain that it takes to get a piece of cheese out to a customer,” he said.
“The whole supply chain would be impacted, from the farms with the milk supply to make the cheese, all our ingredients suppliers, the people that work here, the transport companies, you name it,” he said.