by Mandy Wynn
BKLYN Larder Proprietor and Curator
Help, my mind is melting! Last month the American legal system ruled Gruyere to be a generic term allowed to reference, well, anything. But anyone who’s actually eaten Le Gruyere AOP knows Gruyere is a proper name for an already strangely specific word used as a common descriptor: alpine.
In some mind bending verbal contortion, Americans have already adopted a word used to describe a style of cheesemaking common in the the Alps to apply to cheeses made from anywhere. It’s a stretch, but I can get behind cheeses made using the practice of transhumance, with cooked curds, hard pressed, and brined given the adjective Alpine.
What makes a cheese made on one alp different than another made in the exact same way on a different alp? The answer is place; the animals that live in that place, what they eat that grows in that place, the scent in the air of that place.
So you make your alpine cheese in Switzerland, and it tastes like your mountain, your herd. And I make mine in Sheboygan and it tastes like my animals and my land. And even though my land is less than a tenth of a mile high, it makes sense to describe my cheese as an alpine because I used techniques honed for centuries in the alps. How does it make sense to call my cheese Gruyere?
You know those fake Prada’s and Louie’s you can pick up on Canal? Well, enough Americans have been selling those knock offs for long enough that most Americans think they are actually Prada and Louis Vuitton handbags. So let’s just make it legal for all US companies to market their handbags as Prada.
Gruyere is entitled to win on appeal. And in so doing, they will bestow the same rights for craft cheese makers in the US to develop and promote our own products cultivated from our land and our places.
It’s time to support the efforts of artisanal food makers by upholding their rights to the names that represent value, quality, skill and tradition. We can’t do that by diluting and commercializing the meaning of already established names like Gruyere. It’s time we empower our own makers to develop and protect names of our own. Let’s make Pleasant Ridge or Prairie Breeze a thing. Who’s in?