A Wisconsin-based cheese maker has reportedly agreed, under pressure from its Swiss parent and the Swiss gruyère industry, to cease using the word “gruyère” in labeling and promoting its Grand Cru Gruyère cheese. The change, effective in May 2013, was agreed to despite a recent decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refusing the “le gruyère” trademark because “[t]he existence of seven U.S. cheese manufacturers of gruyère cheese and the widespread generic internet and dictionary usage . . . clearly demonstrate that gruyère has lost its geographical significance and is now viewed as a genus of cheese.”
Geographical food and beverage designations are significant in Europe where many EU countries give them legal protection; a French reporter apparently visited Wisconsin to cover the negotiations leading to the agreement. She indicated her wish that American cheese makers adopt the European approach and name their cheeses after the area of origin, saying “It’s not a question of name. The soil is different, so the taste of the cheese will be different. It’s something that is obvious in Europe.” Gruyère production in a particular Swiss region reportedly dates to the 13th century and could be even older given the legend that a Roman emperor died of indigestion in 161 CE after consuming too much cheese from the Gruyère region.
According to a news source, the Virginia-based Consortium for Common Food Names issued a statement this week praising USPTO for taking “a common-sense approach to generic names that protects both consumers and producers.” A spokesperson reportedly said, “What we’re against are efforts to monopolize.” See The Monroe Times, May 9, 2012.