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SWISS CHEESE

How Switzerland is protecting its cheeses from foreign influence

Neutral Switzerland has not been involved in any foreign wars for centuries, but lately the country has been doing battle over its cheese.

How Switzerland is protecting its cheeses from foreign influence
Swiss emmental cheese has lots of holes. Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

Makers of the country’s iconic Emmental and Gruyère cheeses have been locked in legal battles to protect their product from inferior foreign imitations. 

Named after the Bern’s Emmental valley where it is produced, the Emmental cheese has a distinctly mild and nutty taste and is also the only Swiss cheese with holes, which “range from the size of cherries to the size of nuts and are formed during the maturation process”, according to Switzerland Cheese Marketing board.

In Switzerland, the Emmental is protected by an AOP — Appellation d’Origine Protégée, which means the product is entirely made in its region of origin.

This label also means the cheese must meet strict criteria, such as the size of the holes, which should ideally be between two and four centimetres in diameter.

However, the Emmental is also made in France and Germany, but Swiss producers claim foreign cheese does not meet the same exacting standards and has little to do with the original recipe.

They have been fighting for years for better protection of the brand manufactured and sold outside Switzerland, but to avail: the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) ruled that “Emmental” doesn’t designate the geographical origin of the product, but only a certain type of cheese with holes.

This decision really cheesed the Swiss off and they filed a complaint against EUIPO’s decision with the General Court of the European Union, which will begin deliberations in September.

READ MORE: Ten varieties of cheese you should be able to identify if you live in Switzerland

However, the Emmental is not the only Swiss cheese caught up in an international legal tangle; Gruyère suffered a similar fate.

An American court ruled in January 2022 that ‘Gruyere cheese’ does not have to be made in the Gruyères region — or even in Switzerland, for that matter —in order to bear the name. 

Swiss cheesemakers said they would appeal the US ruling, but in the meantime the verdict grates on their nerves.

“Gruyère represents a centuries-old traditional recipe, and a region of Switzerland,” an angry Philippe Bardet, director of the Association of Swiss Gruyère Producers, told Switzerland’s Blick newspaper.

“When consumers buy a Gruyère in the United States, they have no idea what awaits them”, he said. “Does the cheese have holes? What milk was it made with?”

Bardet pointed out that Swiss Gruyère producers use only raw milk from cows that eat natural food  — pasture grass in summer and hay in winter .

But in  America, “they use cheap milk”, he said. 

READ MORE: Why are Swiss angry with Americans about Gruyere cheese?

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FOOD & DRINK

Swiss court backs Lindt in chocolate bunny bust-up with Lidl supermarket

Swiss luxury chocolatier Lindt & Sprungli has won its case against the local branch of budget supermarket chain Lidl over its similar-looking Easter bunnies, according to a court decision published Thursday.

Swiss court backs Lindt in chocolate bunny bust-up with Lidl supermarket

The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland ruled that Lindt’s chocolate bunny wrapped in aluminium foil, whether “golden or of another colour”, should benefit from trademark protection against Lidl’s rival product.

It banned the chain’s Swiss branches Lidl Schweiz and Lidl Schweiz DL from selling its similar bunnies and ordered the destruction of any still in stock.

Launched in 1952, the golden bunny with a bell on a ribbon is one of Lindt’s flagship products.

Lindt & Sprungli sued in 2018, claiming that Lidl’s bunnies had a very similar shape and appearance and could be confused with its main Easter product.

But the commercial court of Switzerland’s Aargau canton, west of Zurich, dismissed Lindt’s action in 2021.

However, Switzerland’s highest court overturned the decision, finding that Lidl’s bunnies posed “a risk of confusion even if the two products present
certain differences”.

“Given the overall impression produced, Lidl’s bunnies arouse obvious associations with the shape of Lindt’s,” the federal court said.
“In the public mind, they cannot be distinguished.”

Lindt provided consumer surveys showing that its bunny had achieved a level of general public awareness.

The Federal Supreme Court decided that it “can be considered common knowledge that the shapes that Lindt & Sprungli has had protected by trademark law are associated by a very large part of the public with the Lindt & Sprungli company”.

Lindt said in a statement: “This verdict is a milestone for the protection of Lindt’s golden bunny in its Swiss home market.”

Contacted by AFP, Lidl said it could not provide “any information concerning legal proceedings which are still ongoing”.

Lindt & Sprungli employs approximately 14,600 people worldwide. In 2021, its turnover amounted to nearly 4.6 billion Swiss francs.

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