Grating: 100 Percent Pure Parmesan Products Found To Contain Either No Parmesan Or Additives of Wood or Cheaper Cheeses

FDA Logo260px-Parmigiano_reggiano_pieceOne of the most basic functions of government should be to require accurate descriptions of products in the market. I am a big believer in the free market and tend to resist government regulation whenever possible. However, the free market functions best when the government enforces the rules to prevent misleading and fraudulent practices. This week is an example of how labeling continues to mislead consumers. While parmesan cheese is often advertised as “100%” pure, it can include wood pulp and cheaper cheeses such as cheddar, Swiss, and mozzarella. One manufacturer, Castle Cheese, supplying Target actually had no parmesan in its “100 percent” parmesan cheese product.

The FDA is thankfully prosecuting Castle Cheese (though not apparently Target) for the fraud on consumers. One honest cheese supplier has called for tighter controls on its own industry because of an estimated 40% misleading or fraudulent labeling.

In the case of Castle, its president is expected to plead guilty this month to criminal charges. It is still unclear how this situation could have been allowed to get so bad. Bloomberg ran its own tests on “100 percent” grated Parmesan products and easily found fraud. It found that Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent cellulose. Even more surprising for some who shop at Whole Food to get better products, the testing found that Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft had 3.8 percent.

The prosecution is welcomed but it represents the most extreme possible case. We need to be prosecuting more companies for augmenting their products while claiming 100% purity. When you sell someone 100% pure parmesan and then add wood or other cheeses, it would seem to me to be a case of simple fraud or misleading labeling. That would seem the least we can expect from the FDA since, as Bloomberg showed, testing is relatively easy and there are a relatively small number of major suppliers.

50 thoughts on “Grating: 100 Percent Pure Parmesan Products Found To Contain Either No Parmesan Or Additives of Wood or Cheaper Cheeses”

  1. Darren brings up a good point. A $20 hunk of Parmesan Reggianno will last me 3 months.

  2. Darren – I am in agreement with you on the use of fresh herbs ( and lemons, the stuff in the bottle has a totally different taste that can effectively ruin a dish). One other benefit of using fresh herbs is that they ( almost always) do not come from China as opposed to dried herbs ( difficult to tell where they were grown, most labels only tell you where they were packaged).

  3. phillyT – “Let’s get rid of OSHA, CPSC, EPA and all those pesky regulations.”

    philly finally writing sense.

    I deal with MSHA (OSHA’s mining cousin) and they are so useless. All they are, is a money generator for the govt. or another way of taxing a business. You will never pass one of their inspections and every inspector has their “thing” that they like to go after. It is just a game and scam.

    It amazes me that people actually believe that a govt. agency is there to help you. Yes, not having this pretend security blanket puts the responsibility on us the people. But then again, that requires us to be involved and not dumbed down.

  4. Maplady brings up an observation, upon which I would like to expound:

    “Real parmigiana reggiano is pricey at about $20 per pound at my local grocery store. Save those rinds for use in soups and tomato sauces.”

    There are two dynamics toward purchasing the more expensive yet authentic cheese or similar analogues.

    First, When a quality consumable is purchased, it often requires less of it to bring forth the desired flavor or effect. One of the more prominent examples of this, at least for me, is to utilize freshly grown spices and herbs as opposed to dry, flaked varieties. It does cost more, but in using this one does not have to provide other spices to make up for a multitude of weak dried spices to achieve flavorful dish. With regard to this cheese specifically, it is not necessary to smother the entrée with parmesan insofar as you can overload the flavor and much of it in essence is wasted.

    I would use an analogy of lemon flavored drink. Most make lemonade with batches of lemons fortified to such a degree that they then require cups of refined sugar to make it palatable. The cost is as high as the calories are great. Instead, having a nice chilled glass of water seasoned with a twist of a lemon slice or perhaps lime is not overly bitter, doesn’t have the sugar aftertaste, costs less and is better for you as well as in my view being more refreshing.

    The second dynamic is the cost per serving can be fundamentally a different cost to benefit. It is a mystery to me why people will buy cheap teabags, claiming that excellent and wonderfully flavored exotics cost twice as much. If the teas provide a month’s supply with each box we need to look at this from another perspective.

    If a cheap, weak teabag costs 15 cents per serving but an enchanting, high quality Sri Lankan costs 30 cents, is it really worth fifteen cents to settle for mediocrity? Most people will receive two paychecks in that month so the savings of 15 cents a day is irrelevant. Yet, they consign themselves to a month’s worth of this mediocrity, and never experience the joy of something different. I’ll bet 90% of people can not understand this concept because they only look at the front-loaded cost.

    Returning to the cheese example, sure, they might have spent five bucks for a cheese having 100% nothing of what they intended to buy, they effectively throwing all their money away. You cannot save money by throwing it down the drain.

  5. Shopping SOLELY for price is a bad practice. My family owned a restaurant. When eating @ a restaurant the first 2 criteria, in this order, are “Hows the food, how’s the service.” That is set in stone if you are a smart consumer. After the food and service, to each their own. There is then price, ambiance, location, etc. and you can put price right behind food/service if that’s what is important to you. But, corporate restaurants have too many people thinking price is most important. So, instead of going to a good seafood restaurant owned by a family, the uninformed consumer goes to Red Lobster where he can get crab cakes $3 cheaper.

  6. The FDA apparently allows Cellulose to make up 2-4 % of a grated cheese product ( to prevent clumping of the cheese.). The Bloomberg study found, most egregiously that one product contained no Parmesan cheese, and others had a higher than allowed cellulose content.

    I agree with others that the best grated cheese of any variety is accomplished by buying the cheese in block form and grating as you go, and serving it at room temperature. But once you open that vacuumed sealed packaging the cheese begins to deteriorate, just like any other food and needs to be wrapped appropriately to deter spoilage and prevent drying out. Real parmigiana reggiano is pricey at about $20 per pound at my local grocery store. Save those rinds for use in soups and tomato sauces.

  7. Darren:

    You are so right. We shop by price in most aspects of our lives. It’s the quest to meet the demand for a cheaper product that leads egg producers to cram hens in battery cages, concentrate beef in feed lots, and cut parmesan cheese with wood pulp. There are only so many things you can do to make an expensive product cheaper.

  8. A similar scandal has hit the olive oil industry. Most olive oil is adulterated with soybean oil, including oils made in Italy. Unless a merchant does QC testing, you have no way of knowing what’s in your oil, or if it’s slightly rancid.

    That’s unfortunate, because not only are you not getting the high quality oil you’re paying for, but many people are allergic to the oils it is cut with. And you’re not getting the health benefits of a pure, fresh olive oil.

  9. The free market only works when consumers have accurate information. How can they vote with their dollars without it?

    If cheese producers believe that adding wood pulp makes a superior product, then they should proudly label their cheese contains 3.8% softwood pulp.

    Inspections should always be by neutral third parties. An example are the strenuous requirements and testing to get labeled organic by NOP. You do have to be very careful assuming that government regulating agencies are any better than consumer groups or inspections. For example, I recently read a plant label at Home Depot that proudly proclaimed that it was protected against pests with neonicotinoids, which have been approved by the EPA. This class of pesticide is highly toxic, implicated in the collapse of bees, and has been banned by numerous other countries. Both consumer groups and government agencies can make really bad decisions.

    I think the ideal solution is to have both government regulations and consumer advocacy groups. Such groups routinely discuss such issues as pesticides and herbicides approved by our own government agencies.

  10. I did not say or infer I do not think the govt. should inspect food. I think that is a proper role for govt. However, the 5th estate can be the most effective method for punishing companies that do this horsesh!t. Facebook, Twitter, blogs like this can be a powerful tool in publicly shaming companies and hurting their bottom line.

    RSA is absolutely correct. It is stupid to buy anything w/o the label “Parmesan Reggiano.” I buy blocks from Costco. NEVER buy grated cheese. Buy blocks of cheese where you can actually see the cheese and grate it as needed. Consumers need inspectors but they also need to be smart about food. Americans are not very savvy since they eat so much processed food.

  11. Darren

    You deal with the best system and monitor it. When it springs leaks you patch them. When it needs attention you give it attention. The one fact that surfaces is that the private sector is nothing more than the fox guarding the hen house. I am surprised there are still those that would rather see the private sector monitor itself. I suppose it will take a while to evolve the tail off of some. The best system of monitoring what we ingest is through government agencies. Fix them.

  12. I believe even if the FDA was better funded, regarding our food we it would still be folly to put our full faith and trust in politicians, the government or large agribusinesses. Remember this, both will act in their own self-interest, and your health is not always paramount. Still, I am glad the government did sanction this man and his company.

    Yet we as a society are often our own worst enemies. We continue to demand adulterated, cheap, unhealthy, and convenient food so agribusiness vies to supply that demand. If we instead refused to buy unhealthy food it would stop being produced. Half of this nonsense would stop overnight.

  13. Sure you can regulate yourself!

    Agribusiness has already gotten Congress and most state governments to make it illegal to investigate or film their operations.

    Let’s get rid of OSHA, CPSC, EPA and all those pesky regulations.

    Then, since money is speech, let the corporations give Congress enough “speech” to cap tort damages for, well, everything. And make it burdensome to sue them, make it easy for them to sue or silence you.

    Why not do away with all those pesky labor and safety laws while we’re at it?

    1. Exactly! And we are surely heading to that time when eco-terrorism will be the new terrorism, for it will be the only outlet left for people to express their grievances against big agribusiness and its mistreatment of animals and the environment.

  14. it might be a good idea to fully fund our FDA. and in fact, massively expand its funding since congress has more or less stripped it to the bone.

  15. Nick Spinelli
    1, February 17, 2016 at 10:24 am
    KCF, Bingo. Capitalism is the best system and losing money changes behavior more quickly than any regulation.
    Nick, how would the losing money part happen unless the consumer knows to avoid the wood-selling-cheese-maker?
    How would the e-coli reporting happen unless the government does the identifying and reporting? Do you have your own medical lab?
    Most things that came to light enabling the consumer the better ability to choose, whether mislabeled fish, horse meat as ground beef in Britain, fake milk in milk in china,…etc etc…was reported by the government. Without it, you’ll be eating products laced with enough chemicals to turn you green, especially since more and more of our food is coming from China, and therefore mislabeled.

  16. FoonTheElder,

    The govt. put out the for sale sign so don’t blame business for buying. If the govt. wasn’t for sale, there would be no purchase of them. It’s the govt’s fault where we are.

  17. When we sold the government to the corporations and wealthy, why are we surprised when the big corporations and wealthy use it to their advantage.

    All that has gone on for 30+ years is to cut back effective government and fill the leadership positions with corporate owned puppets. Then complain that government is the problem and doesn’t do its job.

  18. My Mama always taught us to always grate our own cheese, Don’t take the lazy way out with that powdered stuff. The old fashioned way is the best way here.

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