Castle is the FDA’s highest-profile case of Parmesan-maker-gone-awry — its president is supposed to plead guilty this month to charges that could mean a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, and Bloomberg notes its scam cheeses made money hand over fist, enough to adorn the factory “with crenelated battlements and curved archways” so it looked like “a medieval castle.” But while the company actually filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after a fired factory worker ratted the company out to the FDA, people in the industry still say packs of grated Parm 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 labels are accurate.
Bloomberg also ran some lab tests on brands of “100 percent” grated Parmesan to see how much cellulose, the main ingredient in paper, they contained. The results were disconcerting:
Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent, according to test results. 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.
Add Parmesan to the list of foods that come with more than you bargained for: The FDA warns Parmesan fraud has become a serious problem for American consumers. Tests show products described as “100 percent Parmesan” routinely have cut-rate substitutes — like wood pulp, and cheaper cheeses such as cheddar, Swiss, and mozzarella.