The birth of a geographical indication system for Mexican cheeses--boots on the ground
This the second part to my two-part exploration of geographical indications in Mexico. The first part is here.
Armed with knowledge about the areas of the law described in my last post, an understanding of the people and cheesemakers of Mexico, and a tenacious spirit, Carlos Yescas is working toward a system that will recognize the traditional cheeses of Mexico and give them the status similar to that of the AOC system in France.
Carlos filled me in on the state of affairs. It seems as though the state-level governments are most interested in the efforts, particularly in the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Michoacán. Cheese production rules and principles seem to have been established. What the players haven’t yet decided is what kind of geographical limitations they want to include in those production rules. Currently, state divisions in Mexico do not truly take cultural divisions into account. People who share the same culture and similar traditional knowledge may be spread out over different states. Thus, even though people in all three states named may be producing essentially the same type of cheeses, it’s hard to say under what kind of geographical indicator or other label the cheesemakers can label their products. Carlos thinks they may be able to work out a deal where similar a label can be applied to a cheese as long as it meets production standards, regardless of where it’s produced.
Ideally, a Mexican Institute for Cheese would be in charge of implementing and enforcing these new labeling regulations. The Institute would be comprised of cheesemakers, and as the Institute’s credibility and authority increases, it would work with federal regulators to ensure proper implementation. The federal government seems to actually support the cheese labeling efforts, but it is moving cautiously. Carlos sees the government's caution as a positive sign that the it wishes to act responsibly, and to implement the right program from the beginning.
I had questions about enforcement of new geographical indicators internationally. After all, we can see that champagne is practically a generic term in the United States, and that feta may be as well. Carlos, on the other hand, was pretty optimistic. He shared an example of European enforcement of the term “tequila” where the Europeans promised to enforce proper use of the term “tequila” if Mexico promised to enforce “champagne.” Carlos thinks protecting Mexican cheese will correspond to what has already been done.
It was great learning about the birth of a new geographical indication/DOO (Designation of Origin) system. Carlos is on year two of a five-year plan, so there is still much work that needs to be done. I look forward to the day I can find true artisanal Mexican cheese on the shelves of my local cheese shops.