You gotta hand it to the FDA for jumping all over this one. Turns out major cheese makers are mislabeling “parmesan” cheese that’s not really traditional Parma cheese. In fact, according to Grub Street, cheese produced by leading cheese producer Castle Cheese (which sells to Target and Associated Wholesale) contained no Parmesan cheese at all. In fact, it included a significant amount of wood pulp!
The FDA, acting on an anonymous tip, sent U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials on a surprise visit to a Castle Cheese factory in Pennsylvania where they made the horrifying discovery. The FDA is not taking the scam lightly. Castle Cheese is the highest-profile case thus far and its president is expected to plead guilty this month on charges that could put him in prison for a year.
According to manufacturers, a minute amount of wood pulp (labeled “cellulose” on the package) is added to the cheese to prevent clumping. However, given the cost effectiveness of “filling” the product with wood instead of real cheese, it’s clear that the product is being padded with wood pulp and cheaper cheddar instead of real Romano cheese. It is believed that at least ¼ of all grated parmesan cheese on the market is being mislabeled with a “cheese” that contains less than 40% real product.
Figuring Castle’s parmesan cheese fiasco must be a one-off problem, Bloomberg ran independent lab tests on other cheese brands. Here are a few of the findings from samples that they tested:
Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese: 9% wood pulp
Wal-Mart Stores Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese: 8% wood pulp
Kraft parmesan cheese: 4% wood pulp
Of course spokesmen for Kraft Heinz, Walmart, Jewel-Osco, Target, and Whole Foods are questioning Bloomberg’s findings, but they did assure Bloomberg that they would “investigate” and “look into” their surprise findings. Whole Foods told the reporter,
“We strongly believe that there is no cellulose present… But we are investigating this matter.”