Have you ever walked through a grocery store, past the milk and fresh prosciutto, and spotted a bottle of “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese”?
Maybe you buy Parmesan cheese regularly to add some flavor to your pasta. Maybe you’re Italian and can’t imagine making that classic family recipe without it.
Parmesan, which is the English translation for Parmigiano Reggiano, is a hard cheese with a granular texture made from skimmed or partially skimmed cow’s milk. Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano comes from the Italian regions of Bologna, Mantua, Modena or Parma.
In the U.S., Parmesan is not regulated in the stringent way that Parmigiano Reggiano is in Italy and throughout Europe. For instance, according to the regulations set by Italian and European laws, Parmigiano Reggiano must be made with milk from cows that eat hay gathered from a local meadow.
Some Parmesan cheese products sold in America may be made from authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, but could also be derived from an imitation Parmesan produced in North America, South America or Australia. While Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy is typically aged for 18 to 36 months, American versions of Parmesan are often aged for a minimum of 10 months.
Most Italians will tell you that Parmesan should be freshly grated by hand, but many of us have opted for readily accessible pre-grated parmesan cheese stocked on the local grocery store’s shelves. But is this pre-grated Parmesan the real thing, or are there other ingredients hidden amongst the cheese?
Is 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese Really 100%?
It turns out that many cheese products, including popular brands of parmesan and shredded cheese, are actually not 100% composed of Parmigiano Reggiano. For decades food manufacturers have used cellulose filling from wood pulp to prevent grated parmesan cheese from clumping together.
Cellulose is a fiber that makes people feel more full. It has no nutritional value but isn’t harmful either. To cut costs, manufacturers use the ingredient to make goods that contain less cheese but are still filling.
In 2016 concerned consumers and authentic Parmesan cheese lovers decided they were tired of being misled and shortchanged. On the basis of financial injury, they sued several major corporations, including Kraft, Target and Wal-Mart. This group of citizens claimed the brands were deceiving buyers and violating state consumer protection statutes.
About a year later a federal judge, Gary Feinerman, dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning it could be reopened. Feinerman said the plaintiffs’ claims were doomed “by the readily accessible ingredient panels on the products that disclose the presence of non-cheese ingredients,” according to a Reuters report.
“100% Grated Parmesan Cheese,” Feinerman said, did not necessarily imply that the product contained 100% Parmesan cheese. The messaging could be claiming that 100% of the content was grated, not that it was grated while also being cheese (we see you being sneaky, big corporations). While the judge admitted the language was ambiguous and had multiple interpretations, he did not rule in favor of the consumers.
Still, consumers did learn some valuable lessons. When it comes to evaluating the quality and integrity of food products, always trust the back more than the front. After all, brand slogans and eye-catching colors are what stand out on shelves, and a lot of people are too busy to research every item they purchase at a grocery store.
Find Reputable Brands or Grate the Parmesan Cheese Yourself
In America, if you want cheese that is truly 100% Italian style Parmagiano Reggiano, search for authentic manufacturers and cheese-makers, or buy whole pieces of Parmesan cheese and do the grating yourself. This choice also saves trees from being ground into wood pulp.
Not only does freshly grated Parmesan cheese offer a better flavor and texture that melts in your mouth, but it’s also more cost-effective than pre-grated cheese. To grate your own Parmesan, you can use a Microplane, box grater or food processor.
On the bright side, you finally have a reason to plan that trip to Italy for some real authentic Italian cheese. In Italy there is one and only one type of “Parmesan” cheese, and it is Parmigiano-Reggiano.
While many Italian food dishes can be replicated in the states, authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is truly unparalleled compared to imitation cheese. Very simple recipes, like risotto or spaghetti, have a distinctly different flavor when made with freshly grated Italian parm. Alas, when it comes to cheese, we give you the same advice we have for love: never settle — your taste buds and plate of pasta will thank you for it.
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