Does Your Parmesan Cheese Contain Sawdust? Unfortunately, Maybe…

This February, cheese lovers everywhere were rocked by the news that a popular brand of grated parmesan cheese was being cut with cellulose from plant matter and common wood pulp, better known as sawdust.

According to Bloomberg, “Some grated Parmesan suppliers have been mislabeling products by filling them with too much cellulose, a common anti-clumping agent made from wood pulp, or using cheaper cheddar, instead of real Romano.”

In short, even if that “100% parmesan” grated cheese in the supermarket doesn’t contain sawdust, it likely didn’t actually contain only real parmesan cheese either. Now, Castle Cheese Inc., which supplies the tainted grated cheese to grocery store chains around the country, is in serious trouble with the Food and Drug Administration. Castle President Michelle Myrter will plead guilty and face up to $100,000 in fines and a year behind bars.

In the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s era of American consumerism, many Americans are forgoing cheaper processed foods in favor of “natural” foods. Unfortunately for them, while the unadulterated raw versions of dairy products are less likely to contain sawdust, they are far more likely to contain harmful microorganisms like bacteria. In dairy product-related outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2007 and 2012, CDC investigators found that fully 81% were caused by raw milk or cheeses.

If the average American cheese eater was surprised by the sawdust revelation, genuine cheesemongers were not. In a report on the cheese controversy, the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg explained that foodies have spurned the grated version of parmesan for decades.

“Real [Parmesan Reggiano] comes in 75-pound wheels, aged at least a year, from a specific geographic region of Emilia-Romagna…And it is capable of things far grander than being sprinkled on spaghetti. Juliet Harbutt, like others, uses the term ‘edible gold’ when describing Reggiano. Famed cheesemonger Steven Jenkins refers to it in his Cheese Primer as ‘miraculous’ and ‘marvelous’ and ‘superb,’ calling it ‘Il formaggio migliore nel mondo — the world’s greatest cheese.'”

Not only that, but in 1996, that “famed cheesemonger Steven Jenkins” prophetically wrote that America’s grated version of “parmesan” mostly “tastes like sawdust.”

For now, genuine foodies can take comfort in the fact that the investigation is limited to American suppliers of grated knockoff parmesan, not the Italian delicacy.

Image Source: Marcus Quigmire

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