Wednesday, February 17, 2016

FDA Says ‘Parmesan’ Cheese Might Actually Be Cheddar or Wood Pulp

This situation has me feeling a little bleu. The FDA reports that some products described as "100 percent Parmesan" routinely have cut-rate substitutes such as cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella. That's no Gouda! Worse, some might even be composed entirely of wood pulp. The revelations came about as the result of a criminal investigation into Castle Cheese, supplier for the market brands at Target and some other stores. Castle Cheese had filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after a fired factory worker ratted the company out to the FDA. Substituting wood pulp for cheese? What Muensters!!!

One should note that the "wood pulp" that the FDA refers to isn't wood per se. It's not sawdust. It's cellulose. Plant fiber. It's a harmless ingredient that's added to the grated cheese to prevent clumping, so all of you thinking that it's some sort of toxic ingredient aren't being all that sharp. Still, people in the industry maintain that packs of grated Parmesan are full of fraud: One cheese-maker fighting for stricter labeling laws says 40 percent of what's out there isn't even a cheese product, and a Dairy Farmers of America subsidiary claims its tests showed only one-third of cheese labels are accurate. Bloomberg also ran some lab tests on brands of "100 percent" grated Parmesan to see how much wood pulp. they contained. The results were quite grating:

Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent.
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.

Now, it sounds like there are legitimate reasons to use cellulose, such as preventing clumping in shaker cheese. It probably comes down not so much to the fact that they use cellulose, since that appears to be an anti-clumping industry standard, but it's the percentage of cellulose used compared to the amount of real cheese that's the issue. It's essentially bait and switch to advertise 100% Parmesan and give the consumer anything less.

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