Artificial Cheese Substitutes Now Invade Some Of The Best Cheeses Including Parmesan, Cheddar and Mozzarella
As good as high quality cheese tastes in many parts of the world, fake cheeses have been invading the global market for a long time. Specific ingredients illegal in the production of cheese in other parts of the world are perfectly legal in the U.S. and other countries.
But even European nations who have high cheese consumption are getting the shaft when it comes to real cheese. "Consumers are being misled," Xavier Denamur, a restaurant owner, told the Daily Telegraph. "This is an area where we French should be setting an example but instead we're victims of the global craze for junk food."
Undercover reporters filmed the practice at French wholesale manufacturers of ready meals such as pizzas, lasagne and burgers, and had the products analysed by chemists and nutritionists. Such cheese substitute products are produced without fresh milk and often containing processed palm oil.
According to reports in the Moscow Times, the country’s agricultural watchdog has found that 25% of all dairy products on sale in Russia are not true dairy.
The picture is particularly bad in the cheese aisles, where it found 78% of cheeses have been padded out with palm oil, which is cheaper to use than milk.
Artificial cheese substitutes are produced in France, Britain and Turkey. Some manufacturers claim the product contains only "natural" ingredients, typically vegetable fat, salt, lactic acid and potassium sorbate.
One of the most popular substitutes sold by wholesalers in France is known as "50-50" because it contains 50 per cent mozzarella and 50 per cent "artificial cheese".
Parmigiano-Reggiano is allowed to contain only three very simple ingredients: milk (produced in the Parma/Reggio region and less than 20 hours from cow to cheese), salt, and rennet (a natural enzyme from calf intestine). Three other ingredients, Cellulose Powder, Potassium Sorbate, and Cheese Cultures are not found in Parmigiano-Reggiano -- they are completely illegal in its production. Yet all three are in Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese (I’m not sure if that means it is supposed to be 100% “parmesan” or simply 100% grated, which it certainly is). It’s far enough from the real thing that Kraft was legally forced to stop selling its cheese labeled Parmesan in Europe.
European courts decreed that Parmigiano-Reggiano is the only hard cheese that can legally be called Parmesan, which makes a lot of sense given that that it is simply a translation of the same name. In fact, the use of Parmesan to refer specifically to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese predates the existence of the United States by about 250 years, when people in other regions of Italy began calling it Parmesano, which means “of or from Parma,” later shortened to Parmesan by the French, the first foreigners to gain a deep appreciation of the cheese’s virtues. Today almost nothing you can buy in a store here labeled Parmesan is “of or from Parma.”
The much bigger problem are the wedges of faux Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses sold even at higher end supermarkets, gourmet stores, cheese specific shops and the high-priced national retailers purporting sell purer, better-for-you foods. Many of these imitators are produced here in the U.S. or South America, especially Argentina, and come with names such as Parmesan, Parmigiana, Parmesana, Parmabon, Real Parma, Parmezan, Parmezano and my all-time favorite, Permesansan (really). But most of the faux Parmigiano-Reggiano you will find here in the States is called simply Parmesan, and anyone who doubts for a second that its manufacturers are trading on the good name of the real stuff only has to consider that the 800 year old Parmigiano-Reggiano is named for its birthplace, Parma, an actual city.
What an alternative to parmesan? Try SarVecchio. Typically found to be made from more wholesome ingredients on the U.S. market, it is a very well aged, crystalline, nutty, and gratebble cheese. Because it's less dry than parmesan, SarVecchio actually makes a better melter. And it's more snackable, too.
What about cheddar? To my knowledge there are no cows that produce orange milk. Yet, a majority of consumers are unaware that orange cheddar is dyed. Cheddar cheese acquired its classic orange color from annatto in the 1800’s when it was thought that high quality cheeses were yellow due to higher quality green grass fed to cattle. Annatto is known as the “poor man’s saffron” because it can be used to achieve a similar bright yellow color to saffron without the high price. Natural annatto is not itself toxic to human health, however there are some processed forms of annatto which are completely synthetic. This is often not clearly labeled on cheddar cheese ingredient lists and synthetic forms are often being labeled as "color added" rather than "artificial color". This creates an allergenic potential and endangers consumer safety while providing difficult challenges for consumers who experience reactions since they may relate allergic reactions to intolerance of cheese rather than the color, although both may occur. Annatto is also added to butter, ghee and margarine.
Other very popular brands now employ texturizing ingredients like carrageenan (steer clear if you have any type of inflammatory digestive disease, as research shows this additive can exacerbate them). There are also preservatives and natural flavors, which can top as many as 15 ingredients for some brands. (Compare that to run-of-the-mill Cabot sharp cheddar, which has only four ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes.)