If you look up the definition of cheese in a dictionary, you really should find the word “ubiquitous.” You won’t, alas, but you should because this dairy product is such an important ingredient in so many yummy dishes. Imagine mac ‘n’ cheese without the cheddar. Picture an omelet without cheese. Even filled with red or green peppers and onions, an omelet without the cheese, it’s just not the reason why you came to the table.
For cheese-lovers, probably the only thing as unpalatable as an omelet without their favorite dairy product is one made with a cheese that is not what it is billed as. It’s just not right. It’s cheesy. And this is where scientists enter center stage to set things straight. A prime target is that delicious buffalo mozzarella you find in caprese salads, accompanied by nice ripe tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar. Some gourmet restaurants use it on pizza.
It seems researchers have developed a new test to determine if this pricey buffalo mozzarella is the real article. The problem is that while mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP is made from the milk of water buffaloes, the producers of some alleged buffalo mozzarella actually use cow’s milk to create a much less costly, bogus product. More than 100,000 pounds of buffalo mozzarella are imported by stores and restaurants in the United States each year. This doesn’t rival the 3 billion pounds of “standard” mozzarella consumed by Americans, but at as much as $30 a pound in the specialty shops, it is significant.
Barbara van Asch and colleagues explain that expensive dairy products, such as imported specialty cheeses, featuring the country of origin on the label, are among the prime candidates for doctoring by devious manufacturers. These manufacturers may substitute a cheaper ingredient for a more costly one or simply cut back on the amount of high-quality ingredients.
Studies show that the problem is widespread, with a variety of fake dairy products sold in China, India, Italy and Spain. Unfortunately, to date, tests have not been able to detect cow, goat, sheep and buffalo milks at the same time.
So the scientists have developed a test for 96 dairy products commercially available in Europe, including cheeses, butters, milks and yogurts. The test accurately determined that about 12 percent of the products did not contain ingredients listed on the labels, researchers reported in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
They found that, for example, one product label indicated that it was made from 100 percent sheep milk. Their new test clearly showed otherwise: It also contained cows’ and goats’ milk.