Another cheesy scandal rears its head in America
Et tu, Parmesan?
We can’t trust the cops. We can’t trust the priests. We can’t trust our 401(k)s and Lord knows we can’t trust politicians. Now we can’t even trust cheese!
Yes, those lovely, snowy flakes and slivers of aged and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano have now joined the long list of once venerated institutions tainted by the greedy hand of corner cutters and cons.
Last week the Food and Drug Administration blew the whistle on a nationwide faux fromage scandal rocking the cheese-eating world. Pennsylvania-based Castle Cheese Inc. President Michelle Myrter faces one year in the slammer for cutting the cheese with cellulose, a wood pulp byproduct, while advertising her products as 100 percent pure Parmesan and Romano.
Hard times for a hardhearted hard cheese maker.
The feds claim Castle Cheese Inc. was mixing cellulose filler into their products, thereby ripping off customers who believed they were getting top-shelf Parmesan rather than the cheap crap I use that comes out of the green cylinder.
Now before anyone panics, cellulose is a perfectly safe additive. This isn’t a Flint, Michigan-like poisoned water crisis. The FDA allows up to 4 percent in most cheese products, with industry giant Kraft walking up to the line at 3.8 percent.
Still, testing by the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin, showed some brands had enough wood pulp to feed an army of termites. Italian termites. Jewel-Osco brand Parmesan contained a whopping 8.8 percent cellulose while Wal-Mart’s “Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan” was actually 92.2 percent cheese and 7.8 percent wood pulp.
That’s more pulp than a Mickey Spillane novel.
This betrayal of trust cuts me deeply. I have had a long and passionate relationship with Parmesan cheese. Which isn’t to say it’s always been easy.
Two weeks ago The Wife and I sat in a booth at a local Italian joint as the slightly past his prime leading man/waiter asked the single dumbest question in the English language.
“Cheese for your pasta?”
That’s like asking a drowning man, “Would you care for some oxygen?”
But this was one of those snooty places that doesn’t trust the customers with their precious block of Parmesan. Rather than simply put the cheese and grater on the table, the waiter stands there and shaves the cheese over your plate of Penne Rustica giving you that look like, “More?”
Yes, more! Don’t cheese-shame me. Either leave the cheese on the table or get ready to grate Parmesan until you develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
Of course, at home I can pile on the Parmesan to my heart’s content. I’ll sprinkle giant clumps of cheese onto a steaming plate of fusilli marinara until I’ve re-created the Alps in miniature. Nobody rations Kraft.
However I did have one unfortunate Kraft-related incident.
During my bachelor days, I decided for some reason to prepare my own dinner. Since I can boil water, pasta it was. After zapping some Ragu I was ready for the Parmesan.
“The cheese is moldy!” I screamed, along with a few other words I can’t get past my editor.
And sure enough my homemade dinner was ruined with a thick coating of bright green powdery flakes of … Comet.
I had grabbed the wrong green cylinder.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays 5-10 on AM 790. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.