The big cheese or toss the can!

Posted: April 25, 2017 in Food
Tags: , , , ,

Do you want real Parmesan cheese? Don’t buy it in a can.  Cheese isn’t the only thing in that can.  There can even be cellulose (not cellulite, mind you), a safe additive that’s allowed to avoid clumping, in it, as this 2016 article from Bloomberg reports.  I grew up knowing nothing but the cheese (or “cheese”) in those cans.  The real thing is as far from the canned variety as my Nebraska home was from Italy.  And the real thing is called Parmigiano Reggiano.

Every aspect of “The King of Cheese” is strictly monitored.  As the Bloomberg article states:

Of all the popular cheeses in the U.S., the hard Italian varieties are the most likely to have fillers because of their expense. Parmesan wheels sit in curing rooms for months, losing moisture, which results in a smaller yield than other cheeses offer. While 100 pounds of milk might produce 10 pounds of cheddar, it makes only eight pounds of Parmesan. That two-pound difference means millions of dollars to manufacturers, according to Sommer.

Each of those cheeses has to be turned daily and wiped to get moisture off, a dangerous job now done by machine.  Real Parmigiano Reggiano must have a variety of markings on the outside including these obvious and distinctive ones:

Stenciling band, placed entirely around the wheel, which has:

  • pre-punched dots bearing the inscription PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO acronym DOP and the inscription CONSORZIO TUTELA
  • identification number of dairy
  • production month and year

Here’s what a real big cheese looks like. (I especially like this one as it has my birthday on it!)  Grate it yourself for an incomparable taste.  If you find it on sale, freeze a chunk and grate as needed.  And toss the can!

© janet m. webb 2017

  1. Su Leslie says:

    Canned cheese? The mind boggles. I do so love the real thing.

  2. Dan Antion says:

    We do love Parmigiano Reggiano, and if my wife is stirring the sauce, you will find some freshly grated into a small bowl. I, on the other hand, will reach for the jar, if I want to jazz up a simpler meal. My wife tells me she buys the brand without sawdust, but I don’t ever see her use it.

    • The one article I linked sounds as though there is some that’s all cheese, but I also read that the cheese you buy already grated has something added to keep it from clumping. So I plan to stick with burning a few pre-meal calories and grating my own. Because P-R can be frozen and then grated, why bother with the other?


      • Dan Antion says:

        The stuff she buys in the jar does clump up a lot. I have to open and stir with a fork. She’ll ask me if I want the brand that contains sawdust ;-).

  3. joey says:

    This is a good post, not just because of the beautiful giant cheese wheel, NOM! 😛 but because so many people literally do not know what they’re eating. Much of stuff called cheese is not cheese at all. :/

    • Joey, pick up a copy of “Real Food, Fake Food” at the library and you can find out all the different ways we get ripped off in the food industry. I’m sure that’s not all, but it’s enough and both horrifying and angry-making!


      • joey says:

        Nah, I just read the ingredients 😉 I’m a foodie with foodie parents Plus, I garden, and I took nutrition — Sketchy food is sketchy!

      • It’s a great read, Joey. Talks about the olive oil scandal and ongoing issues, Kobe beef, etc. I’m the same way you are, but there are things we can’t find out by just looking at the labels.

  4. marianallen says:

    I grew up eating that salty sawdust and loving it. Now we grate it fresh. We learned that it takes less good cheese to get the flavor we want. 🙂

  5. Allan G. Smorra says:

    We saw that article and have been grating our own PR since then. Great post today, Janet.

  6. bythebriny says:

    Good info. There is such a difference between the Kraft pre-grated, ready to sprinkle “parmesan” and the real thing. The real thing is expensive, though!

    • It is expensive, but it has a lot more flavor, so it goes farther. And it’s real food, which is worth a lot. If you read about how much milk it takes to make it, how long it ages, etc., you know why the cost is higher.


  7. It truly amazes me what some companies manage to sell and pass off as “food.” What’s even more disturbing is how quickly people accept it! It was quite a sensation when this story first broke, but I can’t see that it really made a big difference in overall buying habits for the average consumer…

    • I wonder, Hannah. Most people I know buy the real thing as far as Parmesan goes. As for other foods, there are quite a few still buying “food” rather than eating real food, which is really less expensive as well as healthier.


  8. julieallyn says:

    I learned something today. 🙂

    Oh. And apparently I retired this year on your birthday. Another cause for celebrating The Ides of March!

  9. I prefer the real cheese to the bottle or can. I read there’s sawdust in those fillers. No thanks!

  10. I agree, Janet. You can’t beat the real thing. 🙂

  11. Joanne Sisco says:

    You said ‘cheese’. That’s all I needed to hear 🙂

    I grew up with the real thing … my parents were cheese snobs. My mother wouldn’t buy a cheese that was made in North America. She said it was like chewing rubber. Thanks to them, I can’t imagine eating anything else but the real thing – and yes, it’s expensive, but a little bit has a big taste.

    • The good news is that there are many wonderful cheese in the US right now, real cheeses with great flavor. I’m afraid I’m a bit of a cheese snob, too, but these days it’s much easier to indulge. 🙂


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