"No consumer's health or safety was ever jeopardized as a result of the labeling matters at issue."
This was the response from Stephen Stallings, attorney for Castle Cheese Inc. president Michelle Myrter over charges of selling Parmesan cheese that wasn't indeed Parmesan cheese. Myrter is expected to plead guilty to criminal charges this month to charges related to the cheese issue.
The FDA investigation looked into several cheese producers that were adding a significant amount of cellulose into their product. Cellulose is a fancy word for wood pulp. Fiber, yes; taste, no.
But here is where Stallings really has it wrong. "The FDA accused Castle Cheese of marketing as real grated Parmesan what was in fact a mixture of imitation cheese and trimmings of Swiss, white cheddar, Havarti and mozzarella."
I can handle most cheese without an issue, but have a hard time with mozzarella. The headaches in the back of my head, the nausea. Life slows down when that happens. True, I won't die from eating mozzarella cheese but my health is jeopardized by eating mozzarella cheese.
From what I've been told, I don't have an allergy to mozzarella cheese but I do have a reaction. I would love to get tested for an allergy but that is $500 I don't have to spend.
For most people, what Castle did was deception. For me, it's more … and personal.
"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."
Those results are from a Bloomberg investigation. This sadly reminds us of the Taco Bell meat filling story, where the issue wasn't cellulose (wood pulp) but silicon dioxide (sand).
The best way to avoid this conflict is to buy blocks of cheese from hopefully good sources and grate your own cheese yourself. Sure it's more work, but you have a better idea of what you are getting.
Parmesan is capitalized in Parmesan cheese because of strict standards that distinguish that cheese, including where the cheese is made. As the folks at The Nightly Show would say, Keep it 100, as in 100% pure Parmesan cheese.
We have a bit of fun with the lax standards and even more lax investigative powers in the U.S. food supply. But thanks to the FDA and the U.S. justice system, we have a better idea of what we might be eating. And we have yet another food product category where saving a few pennies is more important than food integrity.