Queso Manchego Makers Win Right to Defend Their Cheese

(Bloomberg) -- Producers of Spain’s Queso Manchego won a boost at the European Union’s top court after they kicked up a stink over the way rivals may have labeled and named their products to look like the world-famous cheese.

Having other producers -- even those from the same region -- use names or labels that evoke the protected product could violate the so-called designation of origin that protects Queso Manchego, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said in a binding decision on Thursday.

Queso Manchego Makers Win Right to Defend Their Cheese

A Spanish court sought the EU judges’ guidance on the scope of protection for Queso Manchego -- made in the country’s La Mancha region from sheep’s milk. The dispute arose after another producer in the same region started making cheeses with labels and names that could potentially confuse customers.

The case isn’t the first of its type to have reached the bloc’s top court. In 2008, EU judges ruled in favor of the makers of Italy’s famous Parmigiano Reggiano, prohibiting German producers even from marketing their own version of the crumbly cheese under its English name, Parmesan.

The cheeses are part of a growing list of now more than 3,000 names for agricultural products, such as Champagne or Feta cheese, that benefit from a special protection that gives consumers guarantees of the origin of a product from a specific geographical region and of the process used for making it. The debate on the scope of these so-called geographical indications has pitted the EU against countries including the U.S. and Australia.

In March, the EU reached a political agreement on rules that would improve the scope of these protections.

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