Exec sentenced to community service for fake parmesan

Jen Skerritt and Lydia Mulvany
Bloomberg News

An executive at a company that sold adulterated cheese fraudulently labeled as 100 percent Parmesan was sentenced to probation, ordered to pay a fine and carry out community service at a food bank or similar facility.

Michelle Myrter, 44, president of Castle Cheese Inc. in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, received three years probation, a $5,000 fine and 200 hours of community service, U.S. Attorney David Hickton said Tuesday in an emailed statement. Myrter, who had been facing prison time of up to six months, will complete her service at a county food bank or at a program that helps with dietary needs, according to court documents.

Myrter pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanor charges involving food adulteration. Prosecutors said her company and two others controlled by her family made and distributed hundreds of thousands of pounds of fake cheese, passing it off as 100 percent Parmesan to U.S. stores between 2010 and 2013. The product was doctored with cut-rate substitutes and ingredients such as cellulose, an additive derived from wood pulp.

Agents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Internal Revenue Service raided company facilities in January 2013 after getting a tip about the fake cheese from a former employee. Afterward, the company used real ingredients, causing profits to plunge, according to court documents. Castle Cheese is now in bankruptcy proceedings.

False-label claims in 100 percent grated Parmesan products are a problem in the U.S., with some companies looking to save money by using filler such as cellulose, an anti-clumping additive derived from wood pulp, Bloomberg News reported in a Feb. 16 article. In a test of 100 percent grated Parmesan brands by an independent lab, Bloomberg News found cellulose levels of as much as 8.8 percent.