Legend tells us that a 17th century Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon said (in French) “Come quickly! I am drinking stars.” Supposedly describing one of the first sips of Champagne, the story is probably not true. But we do know that he was a world class artisan. To avoid pre-judging his wine, Dom Pérignon used blind taste tests and was the first to blend his grapes before pressing.
Where are we going? To Brexit and EU monopoly status.
Champagne has the EU’s PDO (Protected Designations of Origin) status. Telling consumers that the product must be “produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognized know-how,” PDO status guarantees consistent quality. It also means that California’s winemakers should not have a Champagne label on any of their sparkling wines.
Below you can see the three EU protective designations. Similar but less rigorous than PDO, PGI (Protected Geographical Indications), dictates where the product had to be made while a TSG (Traditional Speciality Guaranteed) about traditional character has the broadest definition:
In a Europa agriculture document, I found 76 items from the UK including 17 cheeses with the EU’s special designation. This is the cheese list:
Because of Brexit the cheeses with EU designation might wind up with weaker intellectual property property protection. It could all depend on alternative trade arrangements.
Our Bottom Line: Competition
Artisanal cheesemakers are usually small business people who compete in monopolistically competitive markets where there are many sellers and buyers. Selling something that is unique, they can control price somewhat. However, once the EU bestows a special designation, that business gets more monopoly power and many of the competitive perks that accompany it.
Without EU designations, British cheesemakers could have more competition.
My sources and more…The story of one specific product, this paper on the EU status of Champagne was rather interesting while this EU list-laden document was quite the opposite. Also, H/T to NPR’s Planet Money for first alerting me to the EU’s designations.