In 1988 the Danish film “Babette’s Feast”, based on a story by Danish writer Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), won an Oscar for best foreign language film. We remember this popular film about loss, survival and the art of French eating. For those of you who are into intellectual property and want to share New Year’s Eve dinner with the same people you’ve seen at the table for the past few months, we also have some ideas and interesting facts about food intellectual property that is usually used for New Year’s dinner in France served to bring up some new topics of conversation.
Babette’s festival shows a woman who ran away from Paris and the Commune uprising at the end of the 19th century and ended up in a small Danish village run by a very strict minister. She is hired as a maid by the minister’s daughters, who cannot really afford a maid but understand that Babette has no place to go. The only connection Babette has had with France is that she plays the lottery and, fifteen years later, wins the award and decides to have a dinner party. The invitation is received with some reluctance in this very religious community, but the splendid food and wine will win the hearts of guests, especially those of a general who reveals that the last time he ate such a meal he was all rolled into one Parisian restaurant called “Le Café Anglais”, home of a famous French cook who has since disappeared …
Certified French starters
A traditional French New Years Eve dinner usually starts with oysters, which are eaten raw and alive – the best way to ensure they are fresh and won’t make you sick. There are of course people who can’t stand to eat a live animal, but the French aren’t the only ones who do. Japan has an impressive culinary culture (including from a French perspective) and they eat live fish. At least oysters don’t move …
In France, oysters are grown in many locations on the Atlantic coast and to a lesser extent on the Mediterranean coast, but one of the most famous production areas is Marennes-Oléron, north of Bordeaux. As the quality of these oysters has long been known, the producers felt the need for legal protection and Marennes-Oléron is the only geographical indication registered at EU level for French oysters.
Geographical indications establish intellectual property rights for products whose properties are specifically linked to the area of production. There are three types of geographical indication: PDO – protected designation of origin (food and wine), PGI – protected geographical indication (food and wine) and GI – geographical indication (spirits and flavored wines).
The differences between PDO and PGI are mainly related to how much of the raw materials in the product must come from the region or how much of the production process must take place in the respective region. GI is specific to spirits and flavored wines. If you want to check whether a specific product benefits from an EU geographical indication, you can check the agricultural products and food database registered here.
“Huîtres Marennes Oléron” is a protected geographical indication. In order to benefit from this indication, oysters have to be produced and packaged in a specific area (the Oléron Island and the Marennes area) and, in contrast to the open sea, have to be raised and raised in “Claires”.
In 1970, French oysters became infected with a disease that killed all generations, but producers were able to resume activities with mother oysters from Japan. This means that all of the Marennes Oléron oysters we eat today are actually Japanese.
The production of oysters is traditional, but so is modern science. A large proportion of the oysters that you can currently find on the French market are “triploids” with more chromosomes than the natural oysters. This makes them sterile with the advantage that they grow faster and can be eaten all year round, while natural oysters multiply in summer and produce a type of “milk” during this time that makes them unattractive to many consumers. These production processes (which are technically not genetic changes since no new genes are added) can of course be patented and the French research institute Ifremer applied for patents in 1995 and 2007.
On the French New Year’s Eve table, after you’ve eaten the oysters, you usually get foie gras, or duck fat liver pate. This pate is made in several areas of France, but producers in the southwest managed to obtain a protected label of origin. There is a detailed list of conditions that must be met for a “foie gras” to be classified as “southwest”. First, of course, it must be made in a specific geographic area. The ducks must also be fathered from male ducks of only two species, green-collar and mallard, and force-fed corn for a period of time.
Main Course – Impress your guests with a French patented dish
Cooking is art and artists receive copyright protection. How can chefs get IP protection? Copyright is not the most effective protection. While a cookbook can of course be copyrighted, there are many different ways to describe how a particular dish is prepared, and the recipe itself is considered know-how. Some cooks therefore tried to obtain patent protection. As with any patentable invention, the recipe must be new and solve a technical problem.
If you really want to impress your guess on New Year’s Eve, try one of the four recipes patented by Joël Robuchon, the chef who has won the most Michelin stars. You can buy one of the following ingredients: Papillotte de Taube and Foie Gras au Chou Vert (papillote of pigeon, foie gras and kale), Soup de laitue maraîchère à la crème d’oignons (onion cream and salad soup), Soup Chaude de foie Gras à la Gelée de Poule (hot foie gras soup with chicken jelly) or Recette à base de Sandre et de Saumon (recipe based on pike and salmon). And don’t worry about patent infringement, all four patents expired a few years ago!
Don’t forget a lot of French cheeses
De Gaulle once complained that it is impossible to rule a country with 365 different types of cheese. Cheese will of course also find its way to the French New Year’s Eve dining table. Every cheese is at its best at some point in the year. For New Year’s Eve, we recommend Brie filled with truffles or Mont d’Or. Brie de Meaux, Brie de Melun and Mont d’Or are geographical indications that are protected at French but not at European level. The only French cheeses that made it onto the European list are the famous Gruyère, Emmental and Tomme.
A glamorous finale: champagne and fireworks
Traditionally, the French drink champagne at midnight while watching fireworks. Here too, IP rights are omnipresent.
The name “champagne” is an indicator of origin under French law and champagne manufacturers are keen to enforce it. For example, in 1993 Yves Saint-Laurent launched a new perfume called Champagne. The champagne makers did not like it and received a decision from the Paris Court of Appeal that Yves Saint-Laurent tried to exploit the reputation and image of Champagne (Paris Court of Appeal, December 15, 1993, No. 93) / 25039). This perfume is still sold today under the name Yvresse (“ivresse” means dizziness).
When you drink champagne and watch the fireworks, you may remember that some of these fireworks are original creations that can at least be copyrighted under French law.
We heard an English joke that by the end of the pandemic, half the population will be alcoholics and the other half will be great cooks. Without indicating that this is true, we wish you a very happy New Year’s Eve dinner and a happy new year!