AWARD-winning cheese producer, Shepherd's Purse of Thirsk, was alarmed this week to receive a final ruling banning the company from marketing feta cheese.

The European Commission has called a halt to the marketing of feta cheese made anywhere except specific parts of Greece. Some 85pc of feta, a salted ewe's milk cheese, is produced in other countries and is a recipe with origins that have been traced to other areas of Europe.

One of the most popular varieties originates from the farmhouse dairyat Newsham. Shepherds Purse Yorkshire Feta was developed by farmer's wife Judy Bell as part of her family's successful diversification into hand-made cheese.

After a four-year battle, the firm now faces the enormous expense of re-naming and re-marketing the cheese.

"Our feta is made in the traditional way with sheep's milk, and is one of the most popular cheeses in our range" said Mrs Bell.

"We thought we had won the battle three years ago when the European Court of Justice judged that 'feta' was a generic term.

"We won't stop making it, but face enormous costs to re-market it. The decision will seriously affect our present expansion plans with money having to be spent on re-naming our product. We are also battling for a name, as we cannot even say our cheese is feta-style, so we are struggling to find a new name for our product.

"If we cannot identify the product how can we re-assure customers that the cheese is the type they are looking for? This move will not only affect ourselves, but our milk suppliers also."

She added: "It seems very unfair. We in this country follow rules to the exact letter yet in countries such as France, the major supplier of feta cheese, none of this applies. It seems very silly when the Greeks cannot satisfy demand.'

Another local product, Wensleydale cheese, has not been protected in the same way, she said. "Anyone can make and market it, so what is the difference?"