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Have you ever heard of Parma Ham? It's made in cured in the hills around Parma Italy. And it's one of the many foods that can only be labeled that way if it is made in a certain place.

Since the mid-1990s, the European Union has been restricting what people can call the products they make. Now the E.U. wants to impose more of those restrictions on U.S. producers.

From member station WUWM in Milwaukee, LaToya Dennis reports.

LATOYA DENNIS, BYLINE: So we all know the age old question Juliet asked Romeo in one of Shakespeare's famed plays - what's in a name?

Kyle Cherek says depending on what product you're talking about, it could be a lot. He's producer and host of a television show called Wisconsin Foodie.

KYLE CHEREK: So Lambic beers have to come, absolutely have to come from that valley. Roquefort, of course, has to come from that region, because we've got again, we've got a fungus that gives it that flavor. Champaign, of course, we all know. We like to say Maine Lobster, I mean it's really just an American Lobster, right? American Vidalia onions should only come, in my opinion, with that name from Vidalia, Georgia.

DENNIS: Cherek argues that sometimes certain food products are so unique that only one country or region should be allowed to lay claim. But he says not everything fits into that category; take for instance, Cheddar Cheese.

CHEREK: They simply can't legislate that into a region. Cheddar is made in Australia, in the U.S., in Canada. It's made in probably seven or eight countries.

DENNIS: And therein lies the problem. As part of negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the E.U. wants the U.S. to prohibit food makers here from using names with historical ties to Europe.

STEVE STETTLER: Here we make Harvarti, Gouda, we make our own Stettler Swiss, we make a Colby Swiss.

DENNIS: That's Steve Stettler who owns Decatur Dairy in Brodhead, Wisconsin, about 100 miles west of Milwaukee. The production floor here is hot and humid, and certainly stinky.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

DENNIS: It smells like cheese.

STETTLER: Oh yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

STETTLER: You're going to smell a lot of cheese in here.

DENNIS: Yeah.

Right now, there's a 35,000 pound stainless still vat full of liquid Muenster cheese in the process of changing to a solid. Muenster is originally from France's Valley of Muenster. It's one of those cheese products that could be in line for a name change, along with a lot of other cheese made here.

Stettler says the problem with the E.U.'s proposed restrictions is that U.S. food makers have spent a lot of money building their brands.

STETTLER: How do we educate our consumers? People have spent a great deal of money on labeling, building traditions, building a name on a product. And then not being able to use that name would be kind of horrific.

DENNIS: Shawna Morris is with the U.S. Dairy Export Council. She says since the E.U. started putting restrictions on food names in the mid-1990s they've spread to other countries.

SHAWNA MORRIS: A couple years ago, the E.U. and Korea FTA banned the sale of U.S. Feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola, and Fontina to Korea.

DENNIS: Morris says Costa Rica recently decided against allowing the sale of U.S. Provolone and Parmesan, and South and Central America have similar restrictions. Morris argues that it's less about civic pride, and more about competition.

MORRIS: Actually just last year, the U.S. became the largest single country exporter of cheese in the world.

DENNIS: And nearly a quarter of all cheese produces in the U.S. comes from Wisconsin. Even if eventually producers here can't use the same name, they'll always have this state's native product - cheese curds.

For NPR News, I'm LaToya Dennis in Milwaukee.

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