Torte Law

Other than its flavor, texture, and historical and cultural pedigree, Sacher torte is notable in that it is the only pastry ever to be the subject of a nearly decade-long lawsuit. It seems that Franz, the son of Eduard the Inept Innkeeper (grandson of Franz Sacher, the inventor of Sacher torte) was himself a bit of a bungler, at least as far as intellectual property rights were concerned. For some reason, around the year 1955 — and this where the story gets murky — Vienna’s most famous pastry shop, Demel’s, acquired the top secret recipe. Just how Demel’s got it, whether they bought it from Franz Jr., whether he gave it to them, had it stolen or lost it in a lightning round of strip poker isn’t clear. What is clear is that for whatever legitimate or semi-legitimate reason, Demel’s began making and selling Sacher Torte.

This cut into profits at the Sacher hotel. But more than that, it deprived them of bragging rights to the One True Torte. And so, over the course of the next many years, the high courts of Vienna were consumed with the knotty problem of what constituted a “true” Sacher Torte. In the end the courts ruled in favor of the Sacher Hotel, granting them the exclusive rights to call their torte the “Original” Sacher Torte, while Demel’s had to settle for ignominious title of “Genuine”. Broken and dispirited, the Demel’s crew trapsed back to their bake shop and proceeded to make millions off their torte just the same.

The defeat was also a bit of a blessing in disguise as it freed Demel’s up to make Sacher Torte the “right” way — or so they say — by putting their apricot jam on top of the cake layers instead of in the middle, which any idiot can see is the only proper way to do it. I mean really.

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