In response to decades of increased incidents of adulteration and fraud in the Italian hard cheese category, U.S. hard cheese leader Arthur Schuman Inc. announced the creation of the industry's first trust mark for quality assurance.
The new True Cheese seal is intended to verify the integrity and quality of cheeses ASI makes or sells, and to assist both consumers and wholesale buyers in selecting real cheese made without excessive fillers and unwanted non-cheese ingredients – a less-known condition in the category.
ASI also unveiled TrueCheese.com, an informational web site designed to help consumers and industry stakeholders better understand the reasons and facts underneath adulteration that has plagued the domestic market for years.
"Consumers and restaurant patrons deserve the real thing – not cheeses made with unwanted and excessive fillers. The public has a right to know the cheese they're buying or eating is indeed what it is represented to be," said Neal Schuman, CEO of Arthur Schuman Inc., a fourth generation family-owned cheese company based in Fairfield, NJ.
Consumers may be surprised to learn that more than 20 percent of grated and shredded cheeses claiming to be Parmesan or Romano are actually adulterated versions of the real thing, according to ASI. Of the approximately 463 million pounds of Italian hard cheeses sold in the U.S. each year, ASI estimates that more than 90 million pounds – mostly in grated forms sold in canisters – is adulterated with excessive levels of starches, fillers, and even vegetable oil based imitation cheese.
Food industry experts say faking and adulteration has been an underlying problem in the food supply for many years. "Misrepresentation of ingredients and product mislabeling are more common in many food categories than people realize," said Dr. Karen Everstine, Research Associate with the Food Protection and Defense Institute at the University of Minnesota. "Whether it's fake fish, adulterated olive oil or mislabeled cheese, most incidents go unreported and unrecognized. It can be difficult for consumers to know for sure what they're getting."
A Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) exists for most cheese varieties to specify ingredients and cheese making processes in order to earn the right to be legally labeled as Parmesan, Romano or Asiago.
"The label may say Parmesan but if the product contains high levels of cellulose or other types of cheese, it is being misrepresented to the consumer," said Everstine. Further, "if a company purposely reduces the amount of cheese and instead uses fillers to lower costs, it could be considered economically motivated adulteration if the product is labeled as real."
ASI said the True Cheese seal was developed in response to consumer desire to know the cheese they are buying is real – made with quality ingredients and according to required industry practices for manufacturing and labeling.
In a national consumer survey conducted in June 2014 by ASI, 95 percent of consumers indicated they would be concerned if adulterated cheese is being passed off as real in the marketplace. Seventy-eight percent said companies making adulterated cheeses should not be allowed to label them as Parmesan or Romano. And 75 percent said they would be willing to pay anywhere from 10 to 25 percent more when assured it is real cheese.
"The traditions involved in making Parmesan go back for centuries. And in this country we care more than ever about what's real, true and made with integrity," Schuman reported. ASI is the U.S. hard Italian cheese leader with over 30 percent of the U.S. market and routinely monitors the market and tests cheeses to determine how they were made and their adherence to labeling standards.
Additional information is available at TrueCheese.com. The True Cheese mark will appear on ASI products in supermarkets under the Cello and Cello Riserva cheese brands and new Cello Whisps parmesan crisps, as well as cheeses sold to restaurants, other packaged food manufacturers and to supermarkets for their private label products. The new mark will begin rolling out in shippers and on packaging later this year as new customer orders are filled.