Pre-grated Parmesan is an offense no one should commit. Nothing compares to freshly grated Parm from a good, slightly grainy block that's both nutty and citrusy. There's simply no room at the table for the pre-shredded stuff.
As if you needed one, now you have one more reason to buy only blocks of cheese and stay away from anything in tubs or jars. Bloomberg News reported yesterday that there may be wood pulp in the grated tubs of cheese you find at the grocery store.
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Instead of selling "100 percent Parmesan," as many producers claim to do, many cheese suppliers use additives—among them less expensive cheddar cheese and cellulose, a plant fiber that is often extracted from ground-up wood pulp.
It's not news that a lot of Parmesan is fake. By law, real Parmigiano-Reggiano is allowed to contain only three ingredients: milk, rennet and salt. The cheese we call "Parmesan" in the United States doesn't need to meet these standards, and most of it doesn't.
Bloomberg News took a close look at grated cheese to find just how far it strays from real Parmigiano-Reggiano. Taking matters into its own hands, it hired an independent lab to test store-bought, pre-grated cheese. It found higher levels of cellulose than are deemed safe. Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin, said cellulose (or wood pulp) is OK at 2 to 4 percent.
Bloomberg News's tests found that cheeses, like Jewel-Osco's Essential Everyday 100 Percent Grated Parmesan Cheese, were 8.8 percent cellulose. Walmart's Great Value 100 Percent Grated Parmesan Cheese was 7.8 percent. Kraft came in safe at only 3.8 percent and Whole Foods 365 brand, which didn't list any cellulose on its label, contained 0.3 percent.
One reason for the excessive use of fillers is the high production expense. The demand for hard Italian cheese has grown significantly in recent years, Bloomberg News reported, so "of all the popular cheeses in the U.S., the hard Italian varieties are the most likely to have fillers because of their expense."
Unfortunately, Parm isn't the only food cut with wood pulp. In 2014, Quartz reported that a number of fast-food restaurants, including McDonald's and Burger King, list "powdered cellulose" among the ingredients in many of their items. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal described it as a common additive that "makes ice cream creamier." In other words, you're eating more wood pulp than you may think.
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