Dash for ash: French cheese Morbier beats rival in EU court

A wheel of Morbier cheese is seen in a shop specialised in cheeses in Brussels

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The makers of Morbier, a creamy French cheese with a seam of dark ash through its middle, on Friday won their fight against a copycat after the European Union’s top court said a lookalike product and the way it is marketed could mislead consumers.

Produced in the Jura mountains, Morbier has enjoyed the EU’s protected designation of origin (PDO) since 2000, with particular reference to the thin grey line through its centre.

The distinctive line came about in the nineteenth century when cheesemakers would put curd from evening production into a round mold, cover it with edible vegetable ash overnight and then top it up from the morning milking of the cows.

Morbier’s battle for its status started in 2013 when an organisation for the defence of Morbier sued cheesemaker Societe Fromagere du Livradois SAS in a French court for infringing its PDO and marketing a cheese with the same look.

The organisation lost the case and a subsequent appeal in 2017, but a referring judge then sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice (CJEU), whose judges backed Morbier cheesemakers’ argument.

“EU law prohibits the reproduction of the shape or appearance of a product protected by a PDO in certain circumstances,” they said.

The court said that even if the name Morbier does not appear on the rival’s product or packaging, its reproduction was liable to mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by John Chalmers and Janet Lawrence)