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Cheese Hustlers Caught Red-Handed

It’s time to hide your kids, hide your wife, and hide your husband, because yet another cheese crime has hit our streets and is reeking havoc in our neighborhoods. This time, we’ve moved on from cheese theft to cheese fraud.

The culprit: a Slippery Rock company who’s been accused of labeling their imitation cheese as “100% real” Parmesan and Romano. As far as the FDA is concerned, this is some serious business. Universal Cheese & Drying, Inc., and International Packing LLC, who labeled and sold Castle Cheese Inc. products, were charged with conspiracy; Michelle Myter—president of Castle Cheese (which is in bankruptcy) and a corporate officer of the other two companies—was charged with “the misdemeanor of aiding and abetting the introduction of misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce.” She will face probation while each company will pay $500,000, adding up to a million total.

According to Stephen Stallings, Myrter’s lawyer, “Ms. Myrter was, unfortunately, the corporate officer at the time of the relevant events, but has not been charged with any felony nor accused of any criminal intent.” Her charge falls under the Park criminal liability doctrine—which the FDA follows—stating that company officials can be held liable for their companies wrongdoings whether or not they knew about it.

The FDA does not mess around.

So, what exactly did these companies do—or not do—to cost them a million bucks? What is it that makes cheese worthy of being labeled ‘real’? A lot, actually. The FDA has incredibly strict guidelines for each cheese—as well as for the different categories of cheese products—in their code of regulations. These regulations lay out the necessary physical features of a cheese (Parmesan “is characterized by a granular texture and a hard and brittle rind. It grates readily”), the specific requirements of its chemical properties (Romano “contains not more than 34 percent of moisture, and its solids contain not less than 38 percent of milkfat”), and outlines the cheese-making process (Parmesan “is cured for not less than 10 months”).

The fraudulent cheeses was partly composed of other cheeses, including Swiss and white cheddar. And, perhaps the worse crime of all, none of them consisted of any milk. Not only were the Parmesan and Romano cheeses not Parmesan and Romano cheeses, but they can’t actually be considered cheeses at all, according to FDA standards.

The companies allowed the FDA to conduct the investigation without issue and have changed their labels. But let this be a lesson to big, fraudulent cheesemakers everywhere: don’t try to cheat your cheese’s way past regulations. The FDA is on their game.

Feature Photo Credit: “Ingredients for pasta cheese sauce or pizza…” by Anna Kurzaeva | Shutterstock

Sarah Cummings

Sarah Cummings is a native New Yorker braving the Boston winters to study Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. In her spare time, she can often be found rock climbing, cuddling the neighborhood cats, or integrating goat cheese into her every meal.