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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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Swiss supermarkets issue recall for several corn chip varieties

Several varieties of the Alnatura brand of corn chip have been recalled by Swiss supermarkets due to contamination with a toxic ingredient. Here's what you need to know.

Swiss supermarkets issue recall for several corn chip varieties

Switzerland’s Migros and Spar supermarkets have issued a recall for several varieties of corn chips made by German manufacturer Alnatura. The chips have high levels of tropane alkaloids. 

Consumers have been warned not to consume the chips and to bring them back to the supermarket branches, where they will be fully refunded. 

Migros has recalled three varieties of Alnatura chips: “Mais Chips natur”, “Mais Chips Paprika” and “Maisrollchen Milde Salsa”, having already removed all of the products from their shelves. 

READ MORE: You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Spar has issued a recall for “Organic Tortilla Chips Sea Salt”. 

Migros has also asked customers who bought the chips from their online store, or from Voi or Alnatura shops, to return them. 

What are tropane alkaloids? 

Tropane alkaloids occur naturally in weeds commonly found in the nightshade family: thorn apple, black henbane and deadly nightshade. 

While not purposefully added, they can get into food during harvesting and contaminate the food. 

Swiss news outlet Blick reports they are difficult to remove afterwards. 

Some tropane alkaloids can be toxic, even in small amounts. 

These impact the central nervous system and the heart rate, causing drowsiness, headaches and nausea. 

Anyone feeling these symptoms after eating the corn chips in question should get in touch with your doctor. Emergency numbers are available at the following link. 

READ MORE: The essential Swiss phone numbers you should never forget