Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, protecting PDOs


Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, it’s time to take action to protect our PDOs

We intercepted last week a fake Grana cheese (1) of Hungarian origin packaged-with a tricolor, Italian name and mustachioed man’s stylistic flair-by an industrial giant from Reggio Emilia, Nuova Castelli SpA. In the same days, news emerged in the Emilia news of an ongoing investigation into a gigantic fraud involving Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano PDO, charged to Nuova Castelli and two dairies it controlled. All in the hands of a British ‘private equity’ fund, Charterhouse Capital Partners (3). In the general silence around the affair, let us try to explore some legal issues.

PDO protection

‘Registered names are protected against (…) any usurpation, imitation or evocation, even if the true origin of the goods or services is indicated or if the protected name is a translation (…); any other false or misleading indication as to the provenance, origin, nature or essential qualities of the product used on the wrapping or packaging, in advertising material or on documents relating to the product in question, as well as the use, for packaging, of containers likely to mislead as to its origin; any other practice likely to mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product’ (4). Ça va sans dir that in a piece of cheese with an appearance and name (‘Gran’ instead of ‘Grana’) almost identical to a Grana Padano PDO, vacuum-packed and placed on the shelf next to the authentic product, ‘there is something wrong’.

Official public inspections

The Central Inspectorate for Quality Protection and Fraud Repression is ‘the technical body of the MiPAAF) in charge of, among others, carrying out checks on products with Designation of Origin at the supply chain operators (producers, preparers and importers as well as at marketing)’. ‘Controls are throughout the year at all stages of the supply chain. Predominantly, the controls involve processing and trade. Controls are preceded by consultation of the lists of operators operating in the area of protected origin productions’ (5). In the case before us, the controls were found to be effective against packaging companies (6), but not as effective on the outlets, as evidenced by the presence of ‘Gran di Vittorio’ in LD-MD Discount’s refrigerated counters.

Duties of the Consortia of Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano.

Protection Consortia, which the EU regulation defines as Groups, ‘play a key role (…) to develop activities related to surveillance regarding the effective protection of registered names, compliance of production with the relevant specification, information and promotion of the registered name and, in general, any activity aimed at increasing the value of registered names and the effectiveness of quality schemes. In addition, the groups should closely monitor the position of products in the market.’ (7). Consortia are therefore given the power to ‘help ensure that the quality, reputation and authenticity of their products are guaranteed in the marketplace by monitoring the use of the name in trade and, if necessary, informing the relevant authorities’ (8).

Unheard voices

Well before the ‘anti-fraud radar’ of Great Italian Food Trade intercepted a Magyar cheese disguised as Grana cheese on sale at the ‘discount store’, back in November 2013 Coldiretti had already denounced the worsening of the phenomenon of imports of ‘similgrana’ from Northeastern Europe, noting precise suspicions about some operations of Nuova Castelli SpA: ‘The mere fact that in recent years the import of similgrana of Hungarian origin has increased (…) raises many perplexities. The company that wants to build the mega-warehouse is the same Nuova Castelli that holds 20 percent of the shares of the Cheese Company srl, the sole shareholder of the Hungarian Magyar Sajt that produces precisely a cheese similar to Parmigiano Reggiano. This is a company where, through an intertwining of shares, the Itaca cooperative, chaired until January of this year, when he resigned following also Coldiretti’s complaint, by Giuseppe Alai, president of the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium’ (9), also has stakes.

It cannot wait any longer; it is time to turn over a new leaf. Out with the ‘Grans’ and ‘Parmesellas,’ those who are behind us and those who do not police the market, as is proper both in Italy and the rest of Europe (10).

(Dario Dongo)







(4) Reg. EU 1151/2012, Article 13 (Protection)

(5) See


(7) Reg. EU 1151/2012, recital 57

(8) Reg. EU 1151/2012, Article 45 (Role of groups)


(10) And in all those non-EU countries that under bi- or multi-lateral agreements have recognized at least some of our PDOs. As is the case with Grana Padano PDO in the People’s Republic of China, which will have to be protected against the numerous imitations both from other European countries and from the U.S., Canada, and Australia.