Gruyère cheese labelled "generic" by US court

Gruyère cheese labelled "generic" by US court

A US court has ruled that cheese no longer needs to be from the Swiss region around the town of Gruyères in order to bear its name. 

Virginian court rules against Swiss cheesemakers

A court in the US state of Virginia ruled against a group of Swiss and French cheesemakers when it denied their application for a trademark, stating that American consumers no longer relate the cheese to the region that it has traditionally been produced in. The court went on to call Gruyère a “generic” cheese and added that, “Decades of importation, production, and sale of cheese labelled Gruyère produced outside the Gruyère region of Switzerland has eroded the meaning of that term and rendered it generic."

The consortium of Swiss and French cheesemakers argued that the cheese had been produced in the same way, in the same Swiss canton, using very exacting standards, since the 12th century. Though similar trademarks have been offered to Roquefort cheese and Cognac brandy in France, the US judge ruled that the same would not be possible for Gruyère. 

Europe fights for trade protection for an increased number of goods

The court case comes amidst a spate of trademark applications from European countries attempting to protect their unique food products. The US has also started to join in on the food trademark game, with Japan opting to recognise Tennessee whisky as a “distinctive product” of the United States in December 2021. Some examples of products proposed for trademarking and recognition include Gorgonzola, Feta Cheese and Bolognese. 

Debate around the status of Gruyère has been going on for a long time, and the latest ruling is just one of a long line of cases brought in the US over the cheese. In 2020, Swiss international companies that made the cheese asked that American dairy producers change the name of their US-made Gruyère to “Alpine Cheese” since it was not produced in the Swiss Gruyère region. This plea to US dairy makers was also denied, in another blow to Swiss cheesemakers. 

The consortium has expressed their intention to appeal against the latest ruling, especially since Gruyère is among the most popular cheeses in Switzerland. Swiss cheesemakers are hoping for a victory the next time around. 



Emily Proctor

Former Editor at IamExpat Media.

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