Any way you cut it, cheese is cheese. That’s what one federal judge in Virginia has ruled, anyway: the Associated Press reports that the judge determined in a recent case that Gruyere cheese doesn’t have to originate in the Gruyere region of Europe in order to bear that name. Whether from Wisconsin or Switzerland, it’s all fair game.
A group of Swiss and French cheesemakers who hail from the region of Gruyere, Switzerland, recently sued after their application for Trademark protection on “Gruyere” cheese was denied by the federal Trademark Trials and Appeals Board. The argument this group made is similar to the one many have upheld about champagne: that only sparkling wine originating in the Champagne region of France can be given the name. Otherwise, it’s just sparkling wine and can’t reap the benefits of the title.
Unfortunately for the cheesemakers, this argument did not hold up in a court of law. Both the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the Food and Drug Administration do not seem to support it, and the U.S. District Court judge in Virginia who ruled against the European consortium of cheesemakers cited the fact that the majority of people in the U.S. do not associate “gruyere” with cheese made specifically from that region, but rather see it as a term to describe the style of cheese. (That style, by the way, is described in the AP as “a mild, smooth-melting cheese that’s a favorite for fondues.”)
A member of the esteemed U.S. Dairy council said that in addition to this argument for gruyere, there has been an increased effort from other European exporters to gain international trade protection for products such as gorgonzola, asiago, and feta cheeses, as well as bologna lunch meat. The consortium focused on gruyere is not giving up without a fight, though, and is appealing the judge’s ruling.
What I’ve learned here today is that, here in the United States, it doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you have a smooth, melty core.