Czechs win stinky cheese war after six-year struggle with Germany, Austria

Photo: Wikipedia

The Czech Republic scored a major diplomatic victory over neighbouring Germany and Austria this week after the European Union granted the cherished protected geographical status to the country’s pungent Olomoucké tvarůžky cheese. That means only the original cheese produced in the little town of Loštice - near the Moravian city of Olomouc - can sell the product under that name; everything else is an impostor.

Photo: Wikipedia
It was a battle that lasted more than six years, but the Czechs have emerged victorious, if rather odorous. On July 1st the EU granted the hallowed Protected Geographical Indication or PGI status to Olomoucké tvarůžky – little round soft yellow cheeses the colour of butter that’s been left out too long. The smell once you open the packet is indescribably worse – there are apocryphal tales of Czech passengers being escorted off aircraft etc – but people seem to like them, and they’re undoubtedly the country’s most unique dairy product.

The cheese – which dates back to the 15th century - is now fully protected by the European Commission, a cause of great satisfaction to Karel Hlaváček, the head of the AW Loštice factory that makes them.

“It is certainly a moral victory, but it has real commercial implications, chiefly for our customers. Protected Geographical Indication means our cheese is clearly identifiable, making it impossible for the customer to be tricked into buying something else. Real Olomoucké tvarůžky is a specific type of cheese made here in Loštice and nowhere else. If any other cheese is sold under the name ‘Olomoucké tvarůžky’ – either here in the Czech Republic or abroad – then the customer is being deliberately misled, because it’s just not the same cheese.”

The Czech Republic applied for protected status for Olomoucké tvarůžky – generally called ‘syrečky’ outside Moravia – back in 2004, when the country joined the European Union. Germany and Austria immediately protested, as several varieties of similar cheese – known as Harz cheese, after the mountain range – is produced there too.

One of them is actually sold as Olmützer Quargel – the German for Olomoucké tvarůžky - and it was that confusion that caused the greatest headache for Karel Hlaváček and his colleagues in Loštice. Germany and Austria have been granted a five-year transition period under which they alone will be able to sell cheese as ‘Olmützer’ – after that point, it will be verboten.