Food Forgery: The Swiss Search For Counterfeit Cheese

published May 6, 2011
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The phrase “counterfeit cheese” might conjure images of back alleys and trench coats stuffed with fake Parmesan, but your local grocery store could very well stock a forged cheese or two.

Officials in Switzerland have begun cracking down on the cheap knock-offs of their beloved Emmentaler, using cheese DNA tests to shut down violators worldwide.

Emmentaler, that hole-y cheese also known simply as “Swiss cheese,” is a protected food product, like Parma ham and Champagne. Only producers from a certain region who use traditional methods are allowed to claim the name and the reputation that goes with it. So how to sniff out fakes? Swiss scientists, like television crime show detectives, are looking at the DNA.

Beginning this year, certified Emmentaler producers have been using a special bacteria with a specific DNA sequence to make their cheeses. This traceable bacteria will make it possible for cheese sleuths to bring a sample of questionable cheese back to the lab and determine from its DNA whether or not it is the real deal.

Only fakes that claim to be real Swiss Emmentaler will be targeted; a cheese that calls itself Emmentaler but acknowledges its non-Swiss origins is safe from the cheese sleuths.

Have you heard of any other counterfeit foods?

(Image: Flickr member Hellebardius licensed under Creative Commons)