What’s in a Name

Once exclusive to Switzerland and France, Gruyère gets redefined.

(Photo courtesy of Meadow Creek Dairy)

When a Virginia judge ruled that the name Gruyère could be applied to cheese made outside of the Gruyères region, even some U.S. cheesemakers raised an eyebrow. 

The ruling came from Judge T.S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia after a group of Swiss and French cheesemakers sued to prevent U.S. cheesemakers from using the term Gruyère, citing trademark protection.   

Gruyère may have in the past referred exclusively to cheese from Switzerland and France,” Judge Ellis determined. “However, decades of importation, production, and sale of cheese labeled Gruyère produced outside of the Gruyere region … have eroded the meaning of that term and rendered it generic.” 

While some see the decision as a win, others feel that it weakens the time-honored standards of authentic Gruyère, a mild, smooth-melting cheese that’s been made in the Gruyères region since the 12th century. 

“We do view cheese as inextricably tied to the place it is made,” says Kat Feete of Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, who notes that protected identities like the Gruyère AOC have always been respected. (In English, AOC translates to Controlled Designation of Origin.) 

“Gruyère has been made in the same region, on the same land for centuries,” Feete adds. “Anything we make here in America may be in the same style, but anyone who buys it expecting it to be a European Gruyère will likely be disappointed.” 

Regional names like Cognac and Roquefort can not be used by U.S. makers; while a French trade association, The Comité Champagne, continues to press for official recognition of authentic French bubbly.

The upshot for foodies: If you’re seeking the specific flavor of Gruyère, check labels to see exactly where the cheese you’re buying was made. MeadowCreekDairy.com 

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