Tag Archives: Parmigiano-Reggiano

Kraft’s Parmesan claim grates on Italians

This article came in from a reader and I wanted to share it, as it’s about one of my favorite topics: Kraft and the abomination they call Parmesan Cheese.

From the article:

Kraft says less (curing) time on the shelf could free up costly plant space and shave production costs. Kraft is not alone. At least five other companies are seeking to test-market Parmesan with a shorter curing time.

Opponents worry that changing the standard might jeopardize the Parmesan name. Italy has exclusive rights to the name Parmigiano-Reggiano, and some U.S. companies worry Europeans will persuade the World Trade Organization to restrict use of ”Parmesan,” too.

If that were to happen, feta, Gorgonzola, even Swiss could become targets, Bauer said.

I’ve talked about Kraft lowering the minimum required curing period standards for Parmesan Cheese to six months from the current ten months before and my opinion has not changed one iota.

However, let me state for the record that I am for restrictions of the uses of the names that Paul Bauer names in the article, with the exception of Swiss. (as we already know, “Swiss Cheese” is not a controlled name in Europe, or even a recognized variety. It’s better known under the name “Emmental”). Although the likelihood of restrictions happening is between slim and none, it’s still nice to dream that corporations could be prevented from homogenizing people’s perception of what parmesan cheese should taste like…so to speak.

Technorati Tags: Food, Cheese, Kraft, Parmesan+Cheese

Parmesan Cheese Standards and Kraft Foods

It seems as if the FDA is considering an application by Kraft Foods to lower the minimum required curing period standards for Parmesan Cheese to six months from the current ten months.

Regular readers here at the Hedonist will know that this news report is false, as we’ve illustrated a number of times how Kraft has no standards, har har har.

Seriously though, in the petition Kraft has claimed to have new technology that allows them to create the “parmesan cheese” in a shorter period of time. That new technology? An improved enzyme. That’s right, they’ve engineered their own protein. This is supposed to make me feel better how?

But the choice quote in the article?

…consumer taste panels confirmed that the grated six-month cured product is considered to be equivalent in taste, texture and cooking properties to grated parmesan cheese currently available to consumers

Or to put it another way, the new Kraft Parmesan tastes the same as the old Kraft Parmesan, which is also to say that it still doesn’t taste like real Parmigiano-Reggiano.

(via eGullet)

More on the Parmesan scandal

Okay, I’m being a bit snarky, as there is no scandal per se, just a lot of greedy “cheese” makers.

Arianna Huffington weighs in on Italian cheeses and the forgeries that are out there. Choice quote?

… nine out of ten Italian cheeses sold in America are fakes.

To quote Charlie Brown: AGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

Ahem. okay, so I overreact a tad.

(a tip o’ the hat to Gwyn for the scoop)

The Paradox of Food Production

I’ve been twirling this thought through my head ever since starting Gina Mallet’s book Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World:

  • - When a food product tastes good, the “Good Taste” creates a measure of “Demand”.
  • - The greater the demand, the greater odds of industrialization of the initial food product.
  • - The larger the scale of industrial production, the larger the scale of industrial distribution.
  • - The larger the scale of industrial distribution of the food product, the better the odds of someone altering production techniques to either 1) Enable the product to be cheaper to make…and/or…2)Make the product safe for everyone (and when I say everyone, I mean everyone…from youth to the elderly; from the healthy to those who are susceptible to various bacteria that a healthy person can process with no issue)
  • - The changes in production techniques alter the taste of the initial product, often to the detriment of the initial product.

My point here is that the success of a food product will often lead to its ruin. That may sound a bit alarmist at first until you consider the following products (some of which were talked about by Ms. Mallet):

  • Ground Beef: The production of ground beef have been massively documented. Meat from cows that eat a unnatural diet have a taste which is quite different from a cow that eats hay, grass and other naturally occurring flora and fauna.
  • Pork: Pigs have been bred to have less fat, which makes for a dry tasting pork, and a less tasty product. Pork fat tastes good…sorry.
  • Milk: Raw milk vs. Pasteurized milk. Most of us haven’t had true milk. Do a side by side comparison of a glass of Raw milk, vs. a glass of Pasteurized. You’ll be surprised at what you’ve been missing.
  • Eggs: Oi, what the egg has gone through over the past 30 years. Health issues aside…There’s no comparison between Farm fresh eggs and *shudder* pasteurized and irradiated eggs.
  • Cheese: Place a raw milk cheese aside from the bright orange supermarket chunk o’ cheeze. Taste test. Try to prevent yourself from taking torches and pitchforks to industrial cheesemakers.

…and I could go on.

Have there been health benefits to these changes? Most assuredly in some cases (milk), and the jury is still out on others (cheese, eggs). The health benefits (supposed health benefits in some cases) aren’t my point (I’ll certainly discuss these at some future date).

It’s impossible to take a stance against efficiently producing food for millions of people. Feeding one’s citizenry is a difficult proposition, and yet it’s absolutely essential for the success of any country.

It’s the marketing of these foods which makes me uncomfortable. From the fake balsamic vinegars to the Angus Beef title, a lot of these foods are given titles and names that are designed to take advantage of both the desire of the consumer to have better tasting food, as well as their ignorance of what to expect. In short, a fair amount of food producers take advantage of this food paradox for monetary gain. Granted, this isn’t all that surprising, but it does lead to greater cynicism and skepticism of major food producers once you realize what they are doing.

This cynicism is a good thing. The direct result of this cynicism and skepticism are trends new (“slow” food) and old (organics and artisinal foods). Thus the paradox results in the following: Proponents of the initial product go off and try to recreate that initial taste.

This food paradox is a powerful mover of taste, because it relies on how we perceive things should taste. From the marketer tell us that grated industrial parmesan cheese is equal in taste to Parmigiano Reggiano; to those who tell the marketer that he doesn’t know what they’re talking about, the paradox keeps the idea of “taste” firmly in the public discourse. And if taste is being talked about (either around the water cooler, on blogs, or in books and magazines), the level of quality in foods will always play a part in food production regardless if a product is made industrially or by an local artisan or farmer.

For the Record…Parmesan Cheese

For the record, Parmesan Cheese is not necessarily the same thing as Parmigiano Reggiano. Yes, that may be a little confusing, but let me see if I can clear things up.

A good Parmigiano Reggiano has its roots in what the cow (who supplies the raw milk for the cheese) eats. The better their diet, the better the cheese. Alfalfa and hay are good; grass, herbs and blossoms are better.

Parmigiano Reggiano (which happens to be one of my favorite cheeses) is then made the following way:

The evening milking (from cows fed exclusively on grass and hay) is left overnight and the next day the cream is skimmed off to make mascarpone. The milk is then mixed with the morning’s milking in huge copper cauldrons and the rennet is added.

The cheeses are floated in brine baths for approximately 21 days to protect the rind over the long ageing process. This takes place at a controlled temperature of 22C and for the first 6-7 months the cheeses are turned every 4-5 days. For the following 6-7 months they are turned every 10-12 days. After this it is up to the producer how much longer they mature the cheese.

To be officially considered Parmigiano-Reggian by the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio, it needs to be aged at least 1 year, but often the cheeses will be aged 2 years or more.

For those of you who were wondering, it’s the brining that gives the Parmigiano Reggiano it’s distinct “salty” taste. The better cheeses will have a bit of a “crunch” caused tiny crystals of salt when you bite into the meat of the cheese. A good Parmigiano Reggiano will also crumble when you bite into it, as opposed to the soft texture of an Emmental cheese.

Now, how can Kraft (and other nefarious producers of sawdust) get away with calling their stuff Parmesan cheese? Consider this – The Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio is a controlling governmental entity which gets to say what cheeses are “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, and not “Parmesan”. To be considered “Parmigiano-Reggiano” one must meet stringent requirements. Also, one must have a production area for the “Parmigiano-Reggiano” cheese in one of the territories of the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (on the left bank of the river Reno) and Mantua (on the right bank of the river Po). Obviously this makes for a very limited production of true “Parmigiano-Reggiano”.

“Parmesan” (The English derivative of “Parmigiano”), has no such controlling body. As such, one can mass produce a soft white salty cheese of questionable quality, made of pasteurized milk from cows who more than likely come from corporate dairy farms, grate it into sawdust, foist it upon the American public and hope that no one notices that “Parmesan” cheese is nothing at all like “Parmigiano-Reggiano”.

Which, oddly enough, is exactly what Kraft has done. Not that I’m biased or anything. *cough, cough*

While I’m not here to suggest that the cheeses in the plastic green containers are bad…okay, that’s BS, I’m very much here to suggest that the plastic green cheese containers are bad…I should acknowledge that many people here in the States equate this corporate cheese with Italian food. I’m here to tell you that this is a bunch of hooey. As I illustrated up above, there is a vast difference between the two types of cheeses, and if you wish to be a true lover of Italian cuisine, you at least need to acknowledge that difference. What the green plastic corporate cheese represents traditionally is America’s interpretation of Italian cuisine, which is not the same thing as representing Italian cuisine.

But in the end? For me, it’s just another reason to be annoyed at Kraft.

Alas, Cheese

The bright lights of the cheese counter has always enthralled me, calling to me like a beacon. Even now, older and much wiser, I still find myself drawn to the refridger-aires sitting like islands upon the laminated supermarket floors.

My eyes scan the offerings: Walnut encrusted gobs of fluroescent orange cheese-balls, creamed cheese products disguised as culinary vices, and huge blocks of vacuum-packed colby cheese (often best left in the wrapper). But I never wince in disapointment at these choices, for I know that maybe one day there’ll be a surprise hidden amongst this dairy detritus.

Like the one day that they had Morbier cut from wheels, displayed in the suffocating plastic wrap that is the bane of all those who truly love their cheeses. I recall bringing the cheese home with a feeling of giddiness. I unwrapped it and stared at it intently, affectionately, wonderin g what would be in store for me as it matured.

To me, the best cheese let you know what you’re getting yourself into before you take a knife to it. The Morbier held an aroma similar to a glass of cream that had been sitting out of refrigeration for only ten minutes. I picked the cheese amazed, as always, by the fact that I am holding milk in my hand. I think back to the wanderer who accidentally discovered the cheese making process. He undoubtedly tossed the cheese curd aside, thinking it spoilt. I then imagine the joy of the other wanderer, discovering the same cheese and putting his stomach on the line simply to see if it was edible. His teeth softly cutting through the curds, releasing its creaminess upon the palate.

What draws us to cheese? For me, the variety holds me dear. From the stringy milkiness of a fresh buffalo Mozzarella, to the delicate crunch of the crystals found in the sharp meat of a high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheese offers variety, not just in taste, but also in the way it feels in the mouth. Let’s not forget the way it holds the tongue. Sometimes the cheese slightly liquifies upon the tongue coating it with its flavors, be it the sharpness of a blue cheese, or the tangy-creaminess of a good Camembert cheese.

The best cheese, regardless of variety, let’s you in on the dietary habits of the animal from whence it came. The day you can tell the difference between grass-fed cow’s milk cheese and hay-fed cow’s milk cheese is a day you’ll never forget.

So although I detest a great majority of the supermarket, the cheese counter is the one place where I try to withold too much judgement. Because somedays, it pays off. Recently, the nationally known place down the street has started selling cheese without plastic wrap. Color me a very happy person.