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French gruyere-makers angry as court approves US version

French and Swiss producers had tried to obtain exclusive use of the name gruyere, which is strictly defined in Europe, but not protected in the US

The Virginia appeals court concluded that ‘gruyere’ is a generic term for American consumers, meaning the name cannot be registered and protected Pic: barmalini / Shutterstock

Gruyere can be made in the US, an American court has ruled – angering cheesemakers in France. 

French and Swiss producers had tried to obtain exclusive use of the name gruyere, which is strictly defined in Europe, but not protected in the US. 

The cheese has been produced in the Gruyère region of Switzerland since 1115. In the 17th century, a number of Swiss cheesemakers sought refuge from political and economic troubles in neighbouring Savoie and Franche-Comté. 

However, the Virginia appeals court concluded that ‘gruyere’ is a generic term for American consumers, meaning the name cannot be registered and protected, upholding a decision from the US Patent and Trade-mark Office. 

Cheese sold as gruyere in America for decades

The court said in its decision: “Cheese – regardless of its location of production – has been labeled and sold as gruyere in America for decades.” 

Swiss gruyere is subject to a protected designation of origin (AOP, or PDO in English), meaning all stages of production must take place in a limited number of Swiss cantons. 

The French variety is only covered by a protected geographical indication (IGP, or PGI in English), since 2013.

 French producers lost their battle for AOP status in 2010, as Brussels judged that their gruyere was matured in a much larger area than it was produced in. 

Julien Couval, president of the Syndicat Interprofessionnel du Gruyère, which represents French producers, told The Connexion: “There is only Swiss Gruyere AOC, and French Gruyere IGP. 

Both protect a shared heritage from our Alpine and Jura mountain ranges. 

US courts creating the right to appropriate gruyere’s reputation

“The American courts are creating the right, in their country, to appropriate the reputation of gruyere without guaranteeing the promises to consumers in the specifications of the French Gruyere IGP.” 

He pointed to guarantees in terms of “quality of taste, origin, respect for the environment, respect for animal welfare, social and economic contributions to the zone of production”, which are subject to verifications. 

He added: “Currently, the sale of French Gruyere IGP remains modest in the US. 

“Nevertheless, the principle of fighting against the appropriation of gruyere’s reputation is an important issue which we share with our Swiss counterparts.” 

French gruyere must have holes, which is not the case for the Swiss cheese. 

The US Food and Drug Administration does impose certain requirements: gruyere sold in the US must have ‘small holes’ and be aged for a minimum of 90 day.

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