Your Grated Parmesan Could Actually Be Wood Pulp

The FDA is warning consumers and cracking down on cheese fillers.

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First almond milk was outed as mostly water and virtually no nuts. Then we found out table salt contains tiny bits of plastic and most "extra virgin" olive oil is essentially a fraud. Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  is warning consumers that pre-grated Parmesan from the grocery store could actually be a bunch of cheap cheddar and wood pulp. Is nothing sacred anymore?

FDA tests reveal that many products marketed as "100 percent Parmesan" routinely contain fillers like cellulose, an anti-clumping agent made from wood pulp. In other, less revolting cases, companies use cheaper cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, and mozzarella instead of real Parmesan or Romano. 

And apparently this has been happening for years. Bloomberg reports that back in 2012, agents of the FDA got a tip that Castle Cheese, Inc., a cheese factory in Pennsylvania, was using fillers and passing off their products as 100 percent Parmesan. What's more, the FDA is currently in the midst of a criminal case against the company — signaling an official crack-down on offenders in the cheese industry.

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 In its case, the FDA alleges that Castle Cheese has been crafting shoddy cheese for 30 years while supplying Target's Market Pantry brand and two other brands for Associated Wholesale — all of which contained zero Parmesan cheese despite their labels claiming otherwise. In its own tests of the "100 percent" Parmesan, Bloomberg found some disconcerting evidence: 

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.

Though cellulose is considered a safe additive, an acceptable level is just 2 percent to 4 percent, according to Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin. In response, Whole Foods spokesperson said "we strongly believe there is no cellulose present" but that "we are investigating this matter." And a representative for Kraft Heinz said "we remain committed to the quality of our products" but that Wal-Mart's "compliance team is looking into these findings." 

For now, it might be best to stick to wedges of Parmesan and grate it yourself. 

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