In 2011, a novel orthobunyavirus of the Simbu serogroup, the Schmallenberg virus (SBV), was discovered using a metagenomic approach. SBV caused a large epidemic in Europe in ruminants. As with related viruses such as Akabane virus, it appears to be transmitted by biting midges. Transplacental infection often results in the birth of malformed calves, lambs and goat kids. In more than 5000 farms in Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, UK, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland acute infections of adult ruminants or malformed SBV-positive offspring were detected, and high seroprevalences were seen in adult ruminants in the core regions in The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. The discovery of SBV, the spread of the epidemic, the role of vectors, the impact on livestock, public health issues, SBV diagnosis and measures taken are described in this review. Lessons to be learned from the Schmallenberg virus epidemic and the consequences for future outbreaks are discussed.