French cheese Morbier creates a stink, sees off copycat pretender in EU court

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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 in eastern France, Morbier has enjoyed the EU’s protected designation of origin (PDO) since 2000, meaning that "every part of the production, processing and preparation process must take place in the specific region".

The distinctive thin grey line through its centre 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 Société Fromagère 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.

(with wires)