For those of us who love Italian food, there’s nothing more delicious than adding a flourish of parmesan cheese to the top of a well-prepared meal. However, depending on the brand of cheese you buy, that might not be parmesan you’re pouring on your food. It might actually be a form of sawdust…
In 2012, FDA agents raided a cheese factory in rural Pennsylvania. The factory belonged to Castle Cheese Inc. Thanks to a tip, the agents had reason to believe the company was contaminating its supposedly 100% real parmesan with cut-rate substitutes.
Their investigation turned up evidence that Castle was indeed doctoring their cheese. Their flagship parmesan brand, it turns out, was filled with things like wood pulp. In some cases, the ‘cheese’ barely contained any cheese at all.
Sadly, this gross finding was not an isolated incident.
Records of previous FDA investigations show a clear pattern of parmesan cheese suppliers cutting their product with fillers. Common ingredients included cellulose made from wood pulp and cheddar cheese, which is much cheaper than parmesan.
Cellulose is considered by the FDA to be a safe food additive at levels around two to four percent. However, common consumer brands of parmesan cheese often contain levels around the eight percent mark.
As you might expect, cheese fraud in American grocery stores is not limited to just parmesan. Several independent investigations have turned up numerous instances of missing or mislabeled ingredients in all kinds of cheese.
In a small win, the president of Castle is expected to plead guilty to criminal charges this month stemming from the 2012 investigation. She faces a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Still though, the problem of so-called ‘fake’ cheese is far from solved in America.
I don’t think anything will ever stop me from loving pizza, but after reading this, I might start thinking twice about going to cheap $1/slice pizza places. Something tells me they’re not using the highest quality ingredients.