Why Italy’s parmesan makers are threatening to sue PornHub

August 13, 2015, 2:24 PM UTC
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese on shelves, Parma, Italy
Photograph by Getty Images/Gallo Images

Italy takes pride in its cheeses, and the makers of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses are no exception. So when PornHub, an adult entertainment site, launched an ad campaign last week calling “aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese” the “PornHub Premium of cheeses,” the cheese makers didn’t take to it kindly.

The Italian trade group representing Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese producers says it’s considering legal action against PornHub, claiming damage to their product’s reputation.

The American office of Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium could not be reached for comment, but that organization released a note to the Italian press saying that associating Parmigiano-Reggiano with pornography is “vile and unacceptable” and “offensive for our producers and their cheese.”

The ad – which was to kick off PornHub’s new subscription service — shows a middle-aged, American couple shopping in a grocery store. The man suggests that they buy some “aged Parmigiano Reggiano” cheese because it’s the “Pornhub Premium of cheeses.”

In Europe, cheese that is sold as Parmigiano Reggiano must be produced in the Reggio Emilia area. Essentially, Parmigiano-Reggiano, by that name, is protected under Italy’s laws governing geographic labels of origin. In effect, it’s a brand name. Imagine what might happen if the porn-loving husband had instead said that the Cadillac is “the PornHub Premium of luxury automobiles”? General Motors probably wouldn’t be too pleased.


PornHub is known mostly for its free content, which is submitted mainly by users. PornHub Premium, a new service, offers exclusive, ad-free content in “high quality HD.” That service costs $9.99 a month — or about what you’d pay for a third-pound chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano at Dean & Deluca. PornHub doesn’t make it easy to get in touch with anyone at the company. Messages left on its email form for prospective advertisers elicited no response.

The porn site, launched in Montreal in 2007, is now owned by MindGeek, a global media and infotech company headquartered in Luxembourg. That company’s former head, a German national named Fabian Thylmann was reportedly indicted on tax-evasion charges in Germany last April. The “hub” in PornHub also includes popular sites like RedTube and Youporn.

If PornHub’s ad wizards had been watching the news last April, they might have heard about the Neapolitan pizza makers threatening to sue McDonald’s over a TV spot depicting a young boy choosing Mickey-D’s eats over genuine Neapolitan pizza. This constituted a “dishonorable attack against one of the symbols of the Mediterranean Diet,” the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, or True Neapolitan Pizza Association, said at the time.

When it comes to cheese, don’t mess with the Italians.

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Dan Mitchell is a business and economics journalist based in Oakland, Calif.