RICHMOND, Virginia: A U.S. federal judge has ruled that Gruyere cheese does not have to come from the Gruyere region of Europe to be sold under the name "Gruyere."
After the federal Trademark Trials and Appeals Board denied an application for trademark protection, a consortium of Swiss and French cheesemakers from the region around the town of Gruyeres, Switzerland, sued at U.S. District Court in Virginia.
The consortium stressed that gruyere has been produced in the region since the early 12th century, and cheese made outside the region cannot truly be called the same name, similar to the argument that champagne can only be used in naming sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France.
However, the U.S. Dairy Export Council and other groups opposed the trademark protection, noting that American consumers understand the gruyere name to be generic.
Last week, District Judge T.S. Ellis ruled against the European consortium, deciding that American consumers do not associate the gruyere name with cheese made specifically from that region, adding that while similar trademark protections have been granted to Roquefort cheese and Cognac brandy, Ellis said the same case cannot be made for gruyere.
He also highlighted that the Food and Drug Administration regulates the use of the gruyere name and no requirements specify its place of origin.
The ruling has been appealed by the consortium.
According to Shawna Morris, senior vice president for trade policy with the U.S. Dairy Export Council, the legal battle over gruyere is one in a growing number of efforts in Europe to gain international trade protection for various products, including gorgonzola, asiago and feta cheese.
The consortium has not replied to an email seeking comment, but in court papers its lawyers argued that Swiss and French gruyere is "painstakingly made from local, natural ingredients using traditional methods that assure the connection between the geographic region and the quality and characteristics of the final product."
Allowing others to use the gruyere name would confuse American consumers, they claimed.