Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Bought This Cheese With A Genuine $3 Bill

Before I do anything else today... if you'd go scream at the FCC for a while re: net neutrality for a good, long time today, that would be great. Be sure to use many vulgar words.

That very important matter having been addressed, let us now talk about counterfeit cheese. A cheese factory near Caserta, Italy was raided and seven stores selling their product were shut down on Monday when problems were discovered regarding their buffalo mozzarella. That's not the 'buffalo' spice you've come to think of when you hear of things like 'buffalo chicken', but rather mozzarella cheese made from the milk of an actual buffalo. That's what was supposed to happen, anyway. What was actually discovered to be happening is the factory was making the cheese partly from cow's milk, which is cheaper. 13 people have been arrested.

It's not just cheese. Just about any food can be adulterated or made into one thing while claiming to be another. Bon Appetit put together a slideshow (sorry) of 15 commonly counterfeited foods back in February. (So you're not poking around looking, the text for each slide is over to the right.) For those of you who don't feel up to a slideshow, the list contains olive oil, honey, fish, scallops, balsamic vinegar, saffron, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, black pepper, caviar, milk, juice, wine, and "mystery meat".

Milk in particular ought to be hit upon. In 1858, an expose by Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper enlightened the people of New York to what would be named the 'swill milk' scandal. He wasn't the first, but he was certainly the loudest... and most sensationalistic, with P.T Barnum being an early influence on him. Normally I'd harp on that, but at least his heart was in the right place and he in fact needed to be sensationalistic, because he was going up against Tammany Hall, who was on the side of the distilleries. Said distilleries were revealed to be taking milk that was taken from cows that had been worked unto death, by milkers who weren't washing their hands, and fed distillery waste, aka 'swill'. The milk they gave was so sickly that the New York Times reported a bluish tint to it.

If you sold milk like that, nobody in their right mind would buy it. So the distilleries gussied it up with things like water (often filthy), eggs (often rotten), sugar (often burnt), molasses, flour, starch, even chalk and plaster of Paris. Anything to make it look pure white for long enough for someone to buy the stuff, after telling them how pure the milk was. Unsurprisingly, thousands of children a year died from drinking it.

So of course Tammany man Michael Tuomey was put in charge of the Board of Health investigation and headed off any kind of reform... temporarily. It wasn't the kind of thing that people would just forget about by next week. By 1862, New York State did what New York City wouldn't, passing regulation requiring proper maintenance of swill stables, and two years later, they just banned the distilling outright.

The Italian counterfeit cheese at least appears to have been made with healthy cows. However, that doesn't mean the cheese is necessarily safe. Buffalo mozzarella keeps longer than cow mozzarella, and the counterfeit cheese had 20 times the permissible amount of bacteria, which means some of the cheese on the shelves is expired now when the buffalo cheese would not have been.

You know, Italy, some of us just use cows to begin with...

No comments: