Is Gruyère Still Gruyère if It Doesn’t Come From Gruyères?

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On Tuesday, Jaime Castaneda, the executive director of the Consortium for Common Food Names and the executive vice president of strategy for the National Milk Producers Federation, said he was “ecstatic” about the court ruling.

“For us this decision is not just about gruyère,” he said. “This goes to the bigger fight that we have with Europe in which they are trying to confiscate all these names,” he said, adding that the European Union adopts rules that benefit its own producers at the expense of producers elsewhere.

In Europe, countries are staunchly protective over their culinary heritage. The European Union says it aims to protect the names of specific products to promote the unique characteristics that are linked to their geographical origin. Among cheeses, Roquefort must be from Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France; Parmesan must come from the Italian regions around the cities of Parma and Reggio; and feta must be from certain regions of Greece.

But the same rules do not apply in the United States, where cheeses labeled feta, Munster or Parmesan can be produced anywhere. (Roquefort, however, must be produced in France.) And the European Union cannot prevent European countries other than Switzerland and France from selling cheese called gruyère in the United States. In fact, from 2010 to 2020, the United States imported more cheese called gruyère from the Netherlands and Germany than from Switzerland and France, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For at least 30 years, American cheese producers have applied the label “gruyère” to cheese from countries including Denmark, Egypt and Tunisia.

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A spokesman for Switzerland’s agriculture department, Jonathan Fisch, said in a statement that the Swiss government was disappointed by the court ruling. “Using the term ‘gruyère’ for a cheese produced in the United States threatens the reputation of the original product and its place in the foreign market and can only harm the entire sector,” he said.

Margo A. Bagley, a professor at Emory University School of Law who focuses on patent law and intellectual property, said she agreed with the court’s decision.

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“If we want to have a vibrant, competitive marketplace, other producers need to be able to sell products by the common name that consumers recognize,” she said.



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