The use of the name Parmigiano Reggiano, or Parmesan, is limited to producers in the specific geographical region of Italy where the cheese originated. It is one of numerous products protected under the EU's Protected Designation of Origin scheme (PDO), which also covers products such as Parma ham, Champagne and Newcastle Brown Ale.
The PDO regulations are designed to stop producers in other parts of the world taking advantage of the name and reputation of speciality products whose production is closely linked to a specific geographical region - in this case, the region around the city of Parma.
However, producers in Germany continue to use the name Parmesan for their cheese, even though it has been registered as a protected term since 1996, prompting the Commission's decision to take action against the Berlin authorities.
"The EU previously sent warnings to the German government, and now has issued its final warning threatening the government with a lawsuit from the highest court and fines if it does not ensure that its producers stop using the prohibited name," an EU spokesperson told the Bloomberg news agency.
Germany is Europe's second biggest producer of 'Parmesan' cheese after Italy, but the Italians argue that the use of the name by German companies is undermining the cheese's reputation.
Parmesan is perhaps the most famous hard cheese in the world, and was first produced over 700 years ago in the Italian province of Parma. Court involvement over the use of the name Parmesan began in 1989, and the Italians have fought long and hard to protect their right to the name. The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, one of the oldest food protection organizations in the world, comprises 563 Parmesan producers whose mission is to set the standard of the cheese's production code, and to promote and safeguard the name.