Culture Features Hit-Or-Miss

Most American “Parmesan” is Fake: How to Tell if Yours is Legit

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (commonly known in English as “Parmesan”) is one of the most famous in the world. Nicknamed the “King of Cheeses” in Italy, it’s touted for its nutritional properties and umami-boosting qualities as well as its unique taste and texture. It’s one of the most popular and top-selling cheeses worldwide.

Here’s the problem: many Americans have never tasted real Parmesan.

Within Europe, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product, meaning that, since 2008, only cheeses that comply with a strict set of rules can be sold as “Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO” or “Parmesan.” Like another familiar controlled-origin product, Champagne, in order to qualify it has to be produced within a specific and limited geographic area (which includes the provinces of Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, Mantua, and Bologna) and it needs to be made following a specific process, using genuine raw ingredients that also come from the designated area of origin.

This has led to the rise of fake parmesan cheeses, produced in places like Eastern Europe or South America, sold under similar-sounding names like “Pamesello” and “Reggianito.”

Within the U.S., however, there’s no such regulation, so anything can be sold as “Parmesan,” no matter where or how it’s made — and even if it doesn’t contain any Parmesan cheese at all. In 2012, the FDA investigated a cheese factory in Pennsylvania and found that the cheese it was selling as “100% grated parmesan” was actually cut with fillers like wood pulp and contained exactly 0% real Parmesan cheese, using instead cheaper varieties like Swiss and cheddar. That particular producer was busted and heavily fined due to a tip-off from a former employee, but similar practices are still widespread.

According to Nicola Bertinelli, President of the Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium, which works to promote authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano and fight counterfeit versions, the estimated turnover of fake parmesan worldwide is over 2 billion dollars annually — more than 15 times the amount of genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano exported each year.  

So, if there’s 15 times more counterfeit than genuine Parmesan circulating outside of Europe, are your chances of buying and tasting true Parmigiano-Reggiano slim to none? Actually, no. Here’s how you can avoid the fakes and make sure you’re getting the real deal:

Don’t buy grated cheese

Grated cheese quickly loses its flavor and moisture, so it’s always better to buy whole pieces and grate it yourself anyway, but also, only grated cheese can be adulterated with wood shavings, and real Parmigiano-Reggiano is exported in whole wheels, so buying it in chunks rather than pre-grated is a better way to ensure it’s legit.


Buy whole pieces, with the rind, and look for the stamp

The rind of every wheel of genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano is embossed, after inspection and approval by the Consortium, with dotted letters saying the name of the cheese, date of production, and the seal of approval of the Consortium. Always buy whole pieces that still have a portion of the rind attached, so you can see the stamped letters.

Look for the Consortium’s logo.

Pre-packaged pieces of authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano will have the PDO seal and the Consortium’s logo printed somewhere on the wrapper.

Look for the batch number.

Every piece of genuine PDO Parmigiano-Reggiano will also be marked with a lot or batch number stamped somewhere on the packaging.


You’ve Been Eating Parmesan Cheese Made With Wood And Never Even Knew It

Unbeknownst to many, Parmesan fraud is a growing issue in today’s cheese market (despite how jokey that sounds). According to the FDA, Parmesan cheese is being cut more and more often with a variety of things that aren’t Parmesan cheese, namely other cheeses and…wood pulp.

I had an idea of what wood pulp was, but I wasn’t entirely sure, so I googled it. Turns out, it’s exactly what you would expect it to be: pieces of wood ground down so finely that it becomes pulpy. In order to make maximum profits using minimum resources, several companies (both proven guilty and allegedly guilty) used the pulp replacement to save on ingredients.

According to the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations, Parmesan cheese (or more properly known as Parmigiano-Reggiano when referring to the actual thing) is allowed to have only three ingredients in it: milk, rennet (in order to harden the cheese), and salt. Small enzyme particles of plant and animal origins are allowed to make their way into the cheese during the fermentation process, but combined can only weigh .01 percent or less of the total weight of the milk used. Additionally, creators of the cheese can add food coloring if they would like, as long as every coloring used, no matter how little, is listed in the ingredients.

A large number of companies have come under fire lately for their misleading products, including big competitors like Kraft. Three ingredients that are absolutely not allowed in the cheese are cellulose, potassium sorbate and cheese culture, yet all three were found in Kraft’s Grated Parmesan Cheese, on top of the wood pulp. While a slap in the face like this might fly in America, the land of gracious rebranding, the cheese is an affront to Europeans, who live close enough to Parma, Italy, to try the real deal. Thus, the European FDA forbade Kraft from selling their cheese in Europe, or at the very least, selling it under the guise of Parmesan.

This “wood in your cheese” news comes as an unwelcome surprise to Parmesan-lovers for two reasons, the first reason being good ol’ fashioned deceit. Nobody enjoys having the wool pulled over their eyes or feeling tricked. So finding out through third party sources that the cheese you love so much has been parading around as something else this entire time is sure to incite some pretty unhappy, if not furious, emotions.

Second, we are now eating things in which we are unsure of the ignredients. We as consumers are not particularly happy when we eat something that isn’t what it is advertised to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like anybody is being fed bleach or cyanide or anything like that; it’s not anything life-threatening. But for people with very specific allergies, or people that are sticklers for health, a discovery like this is easily enough to dissuade them from ever purchasing the product made by that company again.

One talented Forbes Magazine contributor, Larry Olmstead, created an in-depth article pointing out all the issues with Parmesan cheese made in America, pointing out that tricky American labels are leading to misrepresentation strong enough to fool consumers. He uses the skewed labeling for Kraft’s 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, pointing out his confusion by saying, “I’m not sure if that means it is supposed to be 100% “parmesan” or simply 100% grated, which it certainly is.” Many other companies that sell the grated and bottled cheese also bank on slick and devious labeling, using ambiguous words and phrases like “all natural” and “100% real.” Anything can be considered 100% real if it’s a tangible object, can’t it? And words like “natural” have implied meanings, but nothing concrete, which is especially useful for companies looking to spin the true nature of their ingredients.



Sources: Forbes, Bloomberg, Grubstreet


How To Make Parmesan-Covered Zucchini Rounds


We don’t talk about it much, but we do occasionally like to eat healthy. Take these Baked Parmesan Zucchini Rounds, for example.

Created by Five Heart Home, the rounds are made with only a few simple ingredients. All you need is some zucchini, freshly-grated Parmesan cheese and some salt & pepper.

You start by slicing up the zucchini into reasonably thin pieces. Then, scoop a bit of parmesan onto each surface and add your salt and pepper. Once you pop these into the oven for about 15 minutes, they’re good to go.

The full recipe, complete with details and measurements can be found at Five Heart Home.

Definitely making these.



BREADSTICK Sandwiches Soon To Arrive At Olive Garden


For anyone who says they can live off of Olive Garden’s signature breadsticks, you’re in luck.

Business Insider reports that the Italian-themed restaurant chain will begin serving sandwiches made from its signature breadsticks. This report was further supported by a tweet from Olive Garden featuring a look at the new breadstick sandwich.

The sandwich appears to feature chicken, marinara and cheese wedged between two breadsticks. While Olive Garden doesn’t flat-out say it, we’re pretty sure it’s a chicken parmesan sammie. The sandwich looks like it’ll be available as a meal complete with fries and a dipping sauce.

Expect to see the new breadstick-inspired sandwich sometime this summer.


This Willem Dafoenut Burger Should Win the Academy Award for Best Foodporn


Picthx PornBurger


FDA Recalls Thousands of Parmesan Cheese Jars, Because Salmonella


A massive recall of 3,500 6-ounce jars of 4C Parmesan Cheese was issued by the Food and Drug Administration due to a possible salmonella contamination. The salmonella risk was discovered after a routine test of the 4C products. The jars affected were mainly distributed in the Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin states, Consumerist reports.

Salmonella has the potential to cause fatal injuries to anyone with a weaker immune system, including young kids and the elderly. Consumers are advised to look for a Best By date of JUL 21 2016 and JUL 22 2016 towards the bottom or back of the jar, dispose of the cheese and its container and contact 4C Foods for a full refund.

As of now, no illnesses have been reported involving the jars of parmesan. Better safe than sorry, though.

H/T Consumerist


15 Beautiful Things to Eat at Dodgers Stadium That Aren’t Peanuts or Cracker Jacks


A staple for Los Angeles residents is to frequent Dodgers Stadium during baseball season. It is, after all, America’s pastime. When you’re not busy watching Kemp strike out, you’re probably wondering what you want eat. Now we don’t know about you, but peanuts and crackerjacks just don’t fill us up enough for a 3-hour game.

Though stadium food can be expensive, we at Foodbeast want you to get the most for your money. That being said, we took an afternoon and did some hard-hitting research on some of the best food options you can get at Dodgers Stadium. While their game against the Chicago White Sox was a tad disappointing, we made the most of our time there nonetheless. Our stomachs stretched so your wallets don’t have to.

You’re welcome.


BBQ Beef Sandwich


What: A 12-hour slow-cooked beef brisket smothered in BBQ sauce and topped with pickles and onions between two hamburger buns. Comes with coleslaw and potato salad. Tangy, hearty and they don’t skimp on the sauce.

Price: $10




What: Roasted corn seasoned with cheese, mayo and chili powder. Super flavorful and tasty. Definitely worth the money but a tad bit messy.

Price: $5


Louisiana Hot Sausage


What: A spicy Louisinana sausage dog topped with coleslaw and bleu cheese. The sausage is buried somewhere under all that slaw, but it’s definitely a recommend.

Price: $9


Italian Meatball Marinara Sandwich


What: Italian meatballs that were hand-formed and thrown into a sandwich with special seasonings. Some of the best meatballs we’ve ever tried. Definitely worth it.

Price: $9


Lasorda’s Pasta Platter


What: Penne topped with a zesty marinara sauce. Includes two hand-formed Italian meatballs and parmesan cheese. A carbo load option for all the photography we had ahead of us.

Price: $10


Chicken Parmesan


What: Hand-breaded chicken breast served on an Italian roll and covered in marinara sauce, Provolone cheese and grated Parmesan. Another sandwich from Mr. Lasorda’s Trattoria.

Price: $9


Brooklyn Dodger Dog


What: East Coast cousin of the Dodger Dog, the Brooklyn Dodger Dog is made with a casing that adds a much welcomed crunch. Just make sure to load it with condiments before feeding the Lasorda.

Price: $7.50


Garlic Fries


What: Fries smothered in a garlic marinade. A very popular snack at Dodger stadium, sold at practically every stand.

Price: $7.75


Big Kid Dog


What: A hot dog topped with a melted heap of mac n’ cheese and a generous handful of fritos. For the big kid in all of us.

Price: $8.50


LA Extreme Bacon Dog


What: A 1/3-pound all-beef dog that’s wrapped in three slices of applewood smoked bacon, smothered in grilled peppers and onions and topped with mustard and mayo. Because we Californians love bacon-wrapped anything.

Price: $9.50


Doyer Dog, Jr.


What: Drenched in nacho cheese, chili, jalapeño  and pico de gallo. For those with a taste for spicy, the Doyer Dog is the perfect choice.

Price: $8.50


Frito Pie Dog


What: Made with chili, cheese and half a bag of Fritos. We recommend saving a few Frito chips to dip the chili cheese that falls out of your dog. Because you will spill.

Price: $8.50


The Heater


What: Topped with a special bleu cheese coleslaw and smothered in a spicy buffalo wing sauce. The dog added the necessary heat to a pretty weak game.

Price: $8.50


Homestand Special – Chicago Dog


What: Dodger Stadium has a tradition of making a customized hot dog in honor of the opposing team. Since they faced the White Sox the night we attended, behold the Chicago Dog. Made with a  slice of pickle, tomato and a buttload of relish. Fell to pieces after two bites, but the dog was picked clean regardless.

Price: $9




What: A Sicilian pastry lined with chocolate, filled with creamy filling and topped with more chocolate chips. A sweet end to a bittersweet game.

Price: $6


Honorable Mention: Kirin Frozen Beer


FDA’s Ban on Wooden Cheese Boards Could Devastate the US Artisan Cheese Industry


This could very well be the first sign of the cheesepocalypse. In a move that’s shaking the dairy world, the Food and Drug Administration issued a ban on the practice of aging cheese on wooden boards — including a majority of cheeses imported to the US. Aging cheese is a process that incorporates bacteria, enzymes, molds and environmental factors to add to the flavor of the final product. While this centuries-old process may sound unappetizing, it makes for damn good cheese.

It all started when the New York State Department of Agriculture asked the FDA if surfaces made from wood were an acceptable means to age cheese, according to Forbes. The branch chief of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutritions Dairy and Egg Branch replied:

The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to [Current Good Manufacturing Practices], which require that “all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained.”

While the regulation does not directly mention wood, the FDA will likely argue that wooden boards never truly reach their standard of cleanliness in comparison to plastic and metal alternatives. Because nothing says artisan like a cold and sterile factory environment.

While major cheese manufacturers like Kraft will be unaffected — they don’t require the wood-aging process — smaller businesses who make artisan cheeses will most definitely be devastated. Time will tell whether or not the FDA will back down or ease up on this regulation.