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Cheesed off: US denies exclusive gruyère rights to Switzerland and France

A Swiss-made Gruyère cheese
A Swiss-made Gruyère cheese Copyright Wikimedia Commons
Copyright Wikimedia Commons
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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A US appeals court has ruled the name 'gruyère' can now be used to label cheeses from outside of the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France, causing upset in the fromage community


There’s uproar in the cheese community after a ruling that gruyère can legally be used to describe the popular fromage, regardless of where it’s made.

The beloved cheese is traditionally from the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France where it originated, but a US appeals court has said the name ‘gruyère’ can be used for any delicacy of its type.

In a victory for American dairy groups, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), rejecting bids from cheese producers from Switzerland and France for a mark that would restrict the use of ‘gruyère’ to cheese from Gruyère itself.

The Swiss and French groups released a statement, saying they were disappointed by the court’s choice but would continue to "pursue vigorously" their efforts to protect the gruyère name. 

The US dairy community is celebrating though, with the US Dairy Export Council president Krysta Harden saying the decision was an "outstanding result for manufacturers and farmers here in the United States”.

Gruyère is widely considered to be one of the most popular cheeses worldwide and is extremely well-established, having been first made in the Swiss district of La Gruyère in 1115.

While the US Food and Drug Administration does have standards in place to certify gruyère cheese, they are said to be far less stringent than in France and Switzerland and, crucially, don’t include geographic restrictions.

The battle over gruyère has been raging for several years now and, in 2015, Switzerland's Interprofession du Gruyère and France's Syndicat Interprofessionnel du Gruyère asked the USPTO to certify that gruyère cheese only comes from the Gruyère region. The organisation refused, saying gruyère is a generic, unprotectable word for a type of cheese.

The Swiss and French groups appealed after a Virginia federal court upheld that ruling in 2021.

The court’s decision has added to what has been an exceptionally bad week for gruyere makers from Gruyère. Last Friday (3 March), a fire broke out inside a Swiss cheese depot in the Swiss canton of Freiburg - destroying the 12,000 wheels of the divisive cheese.

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