US-Made Cheese Can Now Legally Be Called Gruyère

You may not be aware of it, but we've been in the midst of a war over cheese, specifically over the question of whether cheese made in the U.S. can legally be called gruyère. While it may seem trivial to those of us who simply want to fill a charcuterie board, it's a big deal to cheesemakers and marketers both in the U.S. and abroad.

The region of Gruyère is home to a cheesemaking tradition that dates back to the year 1115, according to Le Gruyère AOP, and since the region straddles the border between France and Switzerland, both French and Swiss cheesemakers have vigorously defended their exclusive right to the name for the style of cheese that famously tops French onion soup and lobster thermidor.

The war has been ongoing since 2015, when both French and Swiss producers of gruyère petitioned the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to reserve the term gruyère exclusively for cheese made in the European region. The office declined the petition. The French and Swiss producers filed a complaint in the district court of Virginia, and in 2021, the office's decision was upheld. The European producers appealed the decision, and until Friday, March 3, the fate of the gruyère name had been uncertain.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that gruyère can come from anywhere

In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel in Virginia ruled that American consumers' understanding of gruyère is generic, reflecting a style of cheese rather than an origin. The judges' decision, The Washington Post explains, was founded on evidence that the U.S. imports gruyère from countries other than Switzerland and France, including the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Tunisia, Egypt, and Italy, as well as noting that for several years, domestically produced gruyère surpassed the sale of the Swiss cheese in the Wegmans supermarket chain.

While the U.S. Dairy Export Council calls the decision "a huge victory for worldwide producers of 'gruyere,'" an attorney for the French and Swiss producers promised to "continue to pursue vigorously our efforts to protect the certification mark for the high-quality Gruyère PDO product in the U.S." according to The Washington Post. Regardless of where your gruyère hails from, we recommend enjoying it with a chilled bottle of Gewürztraminer.