Long considered two of Spain’s most beloved cultural treasures, Manchego cheese and the fictional character Don Quixote, have been the subjects of a bitter dispute between Spanish cheese producers and their domestic and foreign rivals over the latter two’s misuse of the image and name for products that bare little resemblance to the original.
The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that other producers who use similar names or labels for products that do not meet the agreed standards for the aged sheep’s-milk cheese violate the designation of origin that protects Manchego cheese from counterfeiters.
The dispute originally arose after other producers in Spain and Mexico started making cheeses with labels and names that were similar to protected Manchego cheese products, which could potentially confuse consumers.
The Court of Justice’s ruling said that companies which use the likeness of Don Quixote and Rocinante, the main protagonist and his horse in Miguel de Cervantes‘ 17th-century classic Don Quixote de La Mancha, were a violation of the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), as the images are used for PDO cheese products that qualify as genuine Manchego cheese.
The Spanish courts will now have the opportunity to follow the European Court of Justice’s consultative ruling as, under EU law, the sovereign courts of the EU’s 28 members have the final say on whether references to regional products are protected under the PDO status.
This is the second high-profile ruling of its type to have reached the Court of Justice. The ECJ ruled in 2008 to protect the makers of Italy’s famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from foreign companies who produce and who mass-produced dairy products under the Anglised name “Parmesan”.