Kraft has filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have the standard time for curing Parmesan cheese in the US cut to six months. In Italy, it takes a year to cure Parmesan while in the US the standard is only ten months, but Kraft says that it can speed the process even further.
In 1997, Kraft developed a method to speed the curing process by altering how the cheese is cultured. In 1999, the FDA allowed the US’s largest food processor to test-market the cheese. Since then, Kraft has sold 300m pounds of fast-cured Parmesan, and want to broaden the initiative.
“As the largest US producer of Parmesan cheese, Kraft has a substantial interest in ensuring that the standard for Parmesan cheese is modern and promotes honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers,” Sheryl Marcouiller, Kraft’s chief counsel, said in the petition to the FDA.
For Kraft it is a question of business sense. The less time the cheese is maturing, the quicker the turnaround and the lower the production cost. Other US manufacturers of Parmesan beg to differ. They suggest that to reduce the standard time it takes to cure Parmesan cheese will reduce the value of the Parmesan name.
This divide reflects the markets that producers are aiming to reach. Kraft, the largest US producer of Parmesan, appeals to the lower end mass market with its ready grated Parmesan sold in a green can. Smaller-scale US cheese producers produce quality premium-priced Parmesan. They argue that reducing the standard curing time will reduce their ability to charge higher prices.
But Kraft spokeswoman Alyssa Burns refutes this suggestion. “There is no reason why producers who use a longer curing period in their production process cannot advertise the fact and suggest to consumers that this is better, so long as they can substantiate their claims,” she told just-food.
Critics of Kraft’s proposal worry that the change would jeopardise the Parmesan name internationally as well. Italy already has exclusive rights to the name Parmigiano Reggiano, and some US companies worry European officials will persuade the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to restrict use of the term ”Parmesan” too. This, some suggest, would open the flood gates and endanger the future of various other US produced cheeses, like feta or gargonzola.
“I don’t think it would be a disadvantage in trade negotiations,” Burns said. “An FDA decision to postpone a ruling would damage the US’s negotiating position in WTO talks.”