Would you Like a Little Grated Wood on your Pasta, Ma’am?

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Most of us know that the grated Parmesan cheese sitting on the supermarket shelf or on the table of your local pizzeria is not the stuff that culinary dreams are made of. For grated cheese to be able to sit for months on a store shelf, it must contain preservatives and an anti-clumping agent. Powdered cellulose, the additive of choice, is made by cooking raw plant fiber—usually wood—in various chemicals to separate the cellulose, and then is purified. Still, if the label says 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, you might assume that you were still buying 100% grated Parmesan cheese, even with the additives. But buyers beware!

At least one American cheese maker is accused of selling misbranded and adulterated “Parmesan” and “Romano” cheeses. A company that makes substitute cheeses is accused of using imitation cheese, other less-expensive cheeses, and an excessive amount of cellulose and starch and selling it as 100% real. There is nothing wrong with producing imitation cheese products, but to knowingly label it as “100%” Parmesan and Romano cheeses is an act of deception and fraud. The cheese was sold under several different names and distributed to major grocery chains throughout the U.S.

Acting on a tip, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspected the rural Pennsylvania cheese facility from November to December 2012 and in 2013 they sent a letter to the president and co-owner of the company. The letter lists some, but not all, of the violations committed between 2010-2013, and states: “In addition, your parmesan cheese products do not contain any parmesan cheese.” The letter also states that after traces of listeria had been found at the facility, they “continued to manufacture imitation and real cheese products in the area where listeria was detected.

Consumers have to be extra vigilant when buying Italian products. For example, there are misleading packaging techniques used by companies with Italian-sounding names that not only use the colors of the Italian flag but even display the Italian flag on products which were made elsewhere. These companies want us to think, “It sounds Italian, it looks Italian, so it must be Italian”.
Don’t be fooled!
When buying cheese, look for blocks of cheese with the printed rind and the full name “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, “Pecorino Romano”, or Grana Padano. Also, to ensure that you are buying authentic Italian products from specific areas of origin, such as balsamic vinegar from Modena, look for the logos Denominazione D’Origine Protetta (DOP) or Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP).

Watch our short but informative video at https://www.italianside.com/italian-traditional-food/

Letter from FDA to Michelle L. Myrter: https://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2013/ucm363201.htm

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Wood Pulp Info: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916