In the increasingly crowded field of weird food news, Bloomberg recently reported that many products labeled “100 percent” grated Parmesan contain wood fillers and, in some cases, no Parmesan at all.
A growing number of lawsuits have been filed against Wal-Mart and Kraft Heinz over bogus cheese claims, according to the Cook County Record.
Reaction on social media broke into two camps: humor mined from the image of snooty foodies wondering if their spaghetti Bolognese would pair best with cedar, spruce, oak or pine; and consumer-oriented answers about why wood pulp is added to cheese (to prevent clumping and save money), how much wood pulp is allowed in cheese (up to 4 percent) and whether it is harmful (probably not).
The plaintiffs are crying foul over harm to their wallets, not their health. They allege they purchased the near-cheeses only because they believed the label claims of “100 percent” purity.
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I am all in favor of prosecuting fraudulent ingredient claims, but I am skeptical that anyone shaking white dust out of a plastic bottle could mistake it for real Parmesan.
I have more respect for my disarmingly honest colleague Tasha’s take on cheesegate: “But the wood fibers made spaghetti taste that much better. Wood is natural, yes?”
Yes, wood is natural, and you could probably add a dash of ground-up 2-by-4s to everything you eat without dire health consequences.
My concern is a larger one: the crime against taste.
One of the things that separates humans from other animals is our ability to take the raw ingredients nature provides and craft them using centuries-old techniques into foods that transcend the bodily need for fuel and satisfy a deeper craving for sublime experience.
A one-pound hunk of golden Parmigiano-Reggiano, made in Italy from unpasteurized milk from grass-fed cows and aged for a year, costs me $18.99 at Carollo’s Grocery & Deli in the City Market.
What a bargain.
A postage stamp-sized flake shatters in my mouth into crunchy crystals that melt into nutty, buttery yumminess. A matchbook-sized wedge is filling, so a pound, wrapped in heavy red-white-and-green butcher paper, lasts me more than a month.
I rarely grate it on pasta. I prefer enjoying it in its pure state, with a glass of beer or a handful of grapes.
It’s hard to imagine eating the shakable stuff alone.