Watch CBSN Live

E.U. Settles Feta Food Fight

It was a good day for Greek salad.

Makers of its key ingredient - feta cheese - on Tuesday hailed a European Union decision giving them exclusive rights to make the tangy white product produced from the milk of goats and sheep.

The EU Commission on Monday gave European producers of feta five years to find another name for their product or cease production.

"Feta ... will no longer face illegal competition from other white cheeses in brine," the Greek Dairies Association said in a statement. "Goat and sheep farmers will benefit most because the milk they produce will be sold more easily."

Salty and crumbly feta is best known around the world as the white slab on top of Greek salad, which also includes tomatoes, onion, cucumber, black olives and plenty of olive oil.

Even Homer referred to white cheese in "The Odyssey," and many Greeks are offended by the idea of foreign feta.

"Everyone knows it's Greek, even foreigners call it Greek feta," said Stefanos Kazakos who works at restaurant Athens' historical Plaka district, popular with tourists.

"It's fair. This should have happened long ago," adds Manolis Androulakis, owner of a store selling traditional Greek products. "Feta is made in parts of Greece. It cannot be reproduced using different methods, and different milk."

Denmark disagrees.

"(We) will look into the decision," Denmark's Food Minister Mariann Fischer Boel told The Associated Press. "The government will afterward cautiously consider whether there is basis for raising a case against the Commission."

The Danish Dairy Board has already promised to take the issue to the European Court of Justice.

Denmark makes 30,000 tons of feta per year, compared to Greece's production of 115,000 tons. The EU Commission gave feta producers in Denmark, France and Germany five years to find another name for their product or cease production.

Greece's agriculture ministry on Tuesday urged local producers to observe strict conditions for feta production and promised to increase quality inspections.

Feta, which can now be produced only in certain regions of Greece, joins a list of hundreds of protected gourmet products, including cheeses like Italy's gorgonzola and French brie de Meaux.

By Theodora Tongas