New Way to Detect Adulteration of Grated Parmesan

US - A parmesan scandal reported earlier this year highlighted how easy it is to doctor the cheese when it's grated.
calendar icon 19 May 2016
clock icon 2 minute read

For producers and consumers of some of the most expensive kinds, this is a big problem. Generic versions abound, but the traditional variety comes from only a handful of Italian provinces and commands twice the price.

Now scientists report in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry a way to catch adulteration of the regional products.

In February, news stories emerged about grated Parmigiano Reggiano, or parmesan, cheese containing cellulose as a filler and different, less expensive cheeses. One product labelled as 100 per cent parmesan reportedly contained none.

For consumers interested in artisanal products, this meant there was no way to know what they were getting at the store.

To address this, the European Union established a system to grant a "protected denomination of origin," or PDO, designation to certain products.

In the case of Parmigiano Reggiano, cheeses with the PDO label must meet certain requirements. For example, they must be made out of milk from cows that are not fed silage.

Augusta Caligiani and colleagues, writing in the journal, wanted to see if detecting compounds associated with these diets would be an effective way to determine the authenticity of PDO-labelled parmesan.

The researchers analysed more than 300 samples of cheeses using a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry method to see if it could help differentiate cheeses from cows fed silage and those that were not.

The team found that samples of Grana Padano, a cheese similar to parmesan but made with milk from cows allowed to eat silage, contained cyclopropane fatty acids. However, these fatty acids were not in PDO parmesan samples.

The researchers also could tell if a blend of the two cheeses contained 10 per cent or more of Grana Padano. Because the method is simple and fast, the researchers say it could be used in industry to screen large numbers of samples for potential adulteration.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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