Food Prep

There could be wood in your parmesan cheese

Many cheese contain non-dairy filler ingredients like wood pulp, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Many cheese contain non-dairy filler ingredients like wood pulp, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Nostalgic about spaghetti and meatballs all covered with cheese?  You may think twice about giving that dish an extra shake after a report shows that your favorite parmesan cheese may contain wood.

According to Bloomberg Business, the Food and Drug Administration visited Castle Cheese Inc. in 2012 based on a tip and discovered some unsettling evidence.

The Pennsylvania cheese factory, which supplies grated cheese to Target's Market Pantry brand and Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc., was shown to be producing parmesan cheese that had no parmesan in it. Instead, it was made with Swiss, mozzarella and white cheddar (which are cheaper) — and fillers such as cellulose (a byproduct of wood pulp) to prevent it from clumping. 

The company was issued a stern warning and Castle President Michelle Myrter is scheduled to plead guilty this month to criminal charges. She faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

And Target isn’t alone. Bloomberg recently went to an independent laboratory and had cheese tested from other store-bought grated parmesan for wood-pulp and discovered high percentages of cellulose in four different brands.

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.

“We remain committed to the quality of our products,” Michael Mullen, a Kraft Heinz Co. spokesman, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. John Forrest Ales, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said he questioned the reliability of testing a single sample and that Wal-Mart’s “compliance team is looking into these findings.”

In the 1950s, the FDA established an official definition for Parmesan cheese that states it cannot contain more than 32 percent moisture, while it must have a "granular texture," come with a "hard and brittle rind," grate "readily," and be made from cow's milk, among others things. There is no reference about "wood pulp" or cellulose in the definition as an appropriate ingredient. 

Health experts say cellulose isn't toxic but shouldn't be consumed in large quantities. But, still, cheddar, swiss, and mozzarella are hardly a substitute for the real thing.

According to reports, Castle Cheese Inc. has stopped making the not-so-Parmesan cheese, and filed for bankruptcy in 2014.