Go for real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Unless you like wood pulp on your pasta

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is one of Italy’s most prized exports. Its production is highly regulated, with rules dating back to the Renaissance. Of course, quality has a cost. Parmesan cheeses, which are meant to reproduce the taste of parmigiano reggiano, are sold for much less. As it turns out, some of them may use low-quality ingredients, including cellulose. See why they’re cheaper?

Back in 2012, for example, FDA agents found that the “100% Real Parmesan” produced by Castle Cheese Inc. was actually a combination of cellulose, white cheddar, Swiss, and mozzarella. According to the FDA’s report, “no Parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” Castle’s Parmesan. The cheese was distributed by chains such as Target and Associated Wholesale Grocers. Caste President Michelle Myrter is scheduled to plead guilty to criminal charges later this month. She faces upwards of a $100,000 fine and a year in prison.

The origins of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano heaven (Photo by Kelly Hau Photography)

How about the other parmesan brands? Bloomberg Business brought in an independent laboratory to find out. Several brands of grated, hard cheese labeled as “parmesan” contained way more cellulose than allowed by production standards (yes, apparently a little bit is allowed). Wal-Mart’s Great Value 100 percent Grated Parmesan Cheese, for example, was 7.8 percent cellulose. The company questioned the results and said they will investigate the matter further.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, because you deserve better

Food fraud is nothing new, especially when it involves highly-prized imports. Olive oil was but the latest example. So what should you do the next time you are in the cheese aisle? Obviously you cannot have each package opened and inspected by FDA agents.

  • Don’t trust the pre-ground stuff. Buy a chunk of cheese and grate it at home. Believe me, it will taste better and fresher. For best visual results, use a Microplane grater.
  • Don’t skimp and go for the real deal, i.e. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Make sure you can see the labeling on the rind. Unike the generic “parmesan”, parmigiano reggiano is heavily regulated, both in terms of production methods and geographic origin.
  • Parmigiano is quite expensive, so don’t toss those rinds! Use them to give flavor to your recipes.


Cover Photo by paPisc