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Kraft "real Parmesan cheese"

I can't believe that at this stage of my life I'm wondering what's in the green box (which the Kraft website calls "iconic"! I'd have thought notorious, but never mind). However, I have just been writing something about parmigiano-reggiano terminology and came up against the English word "Parmesan."

Italians used to use the term, in English, derisively, to indicate the international imitations of parmigiano-reggiano, but the European Commission approved the term as a translation of parmigiano. And so, in the European Union, Parmesan is parmigiano-reggiano DOP.

But the European Commission cuts no ice, I'm sure, with the green boxers, or anyone outside the European Union, so the question remains: what is in the green box? what do they mean by "real Parmesan cheese"? (I have no illusions that it is imported from Italy!)

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  1. I grew up with an Irish Nana and a Sicilian Grandpop and Nana insisted on having the Green Can in the house. My Grandpop said it was ground soap… or is that what he said it tasted like? I don’t know, I was never a fan, not even “in a pinch”

    1. If you grew up in the semi-rural Midwest in the 1940s and '50s, the stuff in the green box was what went on your spaghetti, and you probably pronounced it "Parmeesian cheese". The only alternative was the small round box of a similar substance that came in the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee spaghetti dinner kits. This was before their canned version; it was a box that contained an inner box of uncooked spaghetti, a can of sauce (either meat or mushroom - my mom would get a box of each and combine them), and that "cheese". And then, after you grew up and lived in places where real parmigiano was readily available, that green box simply dropped off your radar. Or else you'd occasionally notice them stacked in the cheese section and wonder, "Who on earth still BUYS that crap?"

      1 Reply
      1. re: Will Owen

        "Or else you'd occasionally notice them stacked in the cheese section and wonder, "Who on earth still BUYS that crap?"

        LOL. So true. That's why I bought a small one the other day just to remember what it tasted like...gotta remember those roots.

      2. Definitely grew up with the stuff and there's still a nostalgic sympathy, but I no longer buy it. I do, however, occasionally buy the Chef Boyardee Pizza Kit and the Kraft boxed spaghetti dinner, both of which contain something similar to the green can cheese. I could, of course, sub real parm in the Chef B Pizza and the Kraft spag, but I don't. To do so would denature the things.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          I grew up with the stuff in the cupboard, until I discovered the joys of good cheeses. Whenever I get a whiff of the stuff now, it smells a bit pukey to me. Granted, lots of cheeses have skanky odors, but the Kraft green canned stuff bears no resemblance to Parmigiano Reggiano in any way. If anything, it smells closer to Asiago and low quality Romano (not better pecorinos).

          1. re: 1sweetpea

            I think the green-box stuff I ate as a kid was a Parmesan-Romano blend … and no, not a pecorino at all, but cow all the way.

        2. "...so the question remains: what is in the green box? what do they mean by 'real Parmesan cheese'?"

          I don't see anywhere that they use the phrase "real Parmesan cheese."

          From the Kraft web site:
          KRAFT 100% GRATED PARMESAN Cheese

          KRAFT 100% GRATED PARMESAN Cheese, in the familiar green can, has been a part of the Italian meal tradition for over half a century. For millions of Americans, shaking on the grated Parmesan cheese is the finishing touch that signals permission to share good food in the company of those that you love.

          Shake it on your favorite pasta or pizza. Or visit our recipe page to make great dishes using KRAFT 100% GRATED PARMESAN Cheese. Now available in 16 oz. and 24 oz. sizes.


          1. And here's a picture of the can. I don't see the word "real." Maybe that was used with older versions and they have since stopped using it?

            7 Replies
            1. re: ttoommyy

              Perhaps the OP inferred that "100%" meant "real"?

              1. re: LindaWhit

                "Perhaps the OP inferred that "100%" meant "real"?"

                I was wondering the same thing. I think that's what Kraft wants the consumer to believe. But it can also be read as 100% modifying the word "grated;" fully grated Parmesan cheese. As an advertising copywriter I would not put it past them.

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  Sneaky little buggers, those ad copywriters. ;-)

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    Aren't we though? lol
                    It's rarely ever the copywriter though. I'm sure if that is the intention of writing "100% Grated Parmesan" then that piece of "creative genius" came from way on high in the corporation that is Kraft.

                1. re: queueueuq

                  That looks like a slightly older version maybe?

                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    I think they mean "it's a real can".

              2. I'm sorry to disappoint people, but there's nothing wrong with Kraft calling its cheese in the green can "real Parmesan." (Kraft has used that term in the past.) There's no accepted definition of Parmesan in the US other than that it is cheese made to imitate Parmigiano-Reggiano. That Kraft Parmesan does that poorly and is a horrible substitute for the cheese from Italy doesn't change the fact that it can legitimately be called Parmesan or even "real Parmesan."

                As for who uses this stuff, if your idea of good pasta is Chef Boy-ar-dee, then you're probably buying Kraft Parmesan.

                31 Replies
                  1. re: cheesemaestro

                    This reminds me of the discussion on another recent thread about how US-produced "Champagne" was freely sold as such here in the US until recently (and the 'grandfathering in' of the name for firms that were previously freely using it) - because the US declined to sign the trade agreements involved and simply disregarded regulations that Europe and other signatories were bound by.

                    1. re: huiray

                      Yes, and same holds true for numerous other products whose names are protected throughout the European Union, but aren't in the US. Another example would be feta, which, to be called by that name in the EU, must be made only in Greece exclusively or mostly from sheep's milk (up to 30% goat's milk is allowed). In the US, feta can be made domestically or come from anywhere, and it can be made from any milk or combination of milks: sheep's, goat's or cow's.

                      1. re: cheesemaestro

                        I can see the point if the common usage of the word pre-dates the legislation - ie, where you've got 100 years of calling a certain type of cheese feta, and a certain type of wine champagne, and then another country announces that they've passed a law that says you can't do that anymore. Changing it requires both passing local laws that ban the word use, and zealously enforcing them until it sticks.

                        Inside the EU they can pass those laws, but they can't require other countries to follow them outside of the EU.

                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                          I get the issue of wines where the grape indicates the region where it was grown and personally admit to not knowing enough about wine to judge the combination of the grape plus the soil of the region - but what is the thought process/logic behind limiting the name of a cheese specifically to where it's made? I currently live in the Middle East, and where I buy cheese there are an assortment of cheeses called feta that range from fat content, type of milk (cow, sheep, goat), and then a type of feta called "Greek" (not because I believe it to be from Greece, but rather just the style of the cheese).

                          I understand that bourbon is legally defined in the US by the percentage of corn contained, but thinking of feta - I am confused as to why it's being made in Greece would mean anything. The only thing that comes to mind is the issue of the hatch chile with New Mexico - where they want to legislate something regarding the status of chiles strictly from New Mexico, but mostly to do with maintaining revenue within the state. Not because a hatch chile grown in Mexico is any less of a hatch chile. A cheese made in Turkey that's 25% sheep's milk and 75% goat's milk isn't feta but in Greece it would be?

                          1. re: cresyd

                            Because feta was so widely produced, both within the European Union and outside it, Greece encountered a lot of opposition to being awarded a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for its feta, and it took several years of hard lobbying to get it approved. Greece's arguments were 1) that feta made in Greece was distinctive and was made according to stringent standards and recipes not followed in other countries in the EU, and 2) that much of the cheese sold as feta elsewhere in the EU and not made in Greece was of inferior quality, yet was being confused with Greek feta and was thus tarnishing the reputation of the Greek product.

                            As to whether a Turkish feta made of 25% sheep's milk and 75% goat's milk could be called feta in Greece, no, it couldn't be. It loses on two counts. First, the PDO for feta specifies the milks to be used: sheep's milk with NO MORE THAN 30% goat's milk and no cow's milk allowed. The cheese with 75% goat's milk diverges from this standard. Second, even if it had met the standard with respect to milk composition, it wasn't made in Greece. The primary purpose of granting a PDO is to recognize and give protection within the EU to a product made in a specific geographic area, which can be as large as a country, but may be confined to a particular region of a country or even to a single location. Since Greece is a member country of the EU, the PDO applies there, and so, for a cheese to be called feta in Greece, it must be made in Greece.

                            Outside of the EU, there's no name protection, unless a country signs a trade agreement with the EU in which it stipulates that it will honor the PDO within its borders. Some countries have done that, but not the US, which has traditionally been opposed to geographic protections. Your Turkish cheese could certainly be sold as feta in the US.

                            1. re: cheesemaestro

                              Where I live, "feta" can be made with 100% cow's milk. I am happy to see that at least Greek works hard to obtain the PDO for its feta.

                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                I apologize if this sounds snarky - but ultimately then the point of this is economics/business and less to do with what's in the cheese?

                                I get that to preserve the basics of an item (like bourbon) a decision is made to qualify how much of a certain ingredient is in it. I have heard that Russia has tried to allow only vodkas made of a certain percentage of potato to be called vodka, and over the years after trying an assortment of potato and non-potato based vodkas - I think that that distinction is silly...but I get the idea of protecting a recipe. So, for bourbon it is a certain amount of corn, and that a certain percentage of sheep's milk is required to make it feta. And so no matter what Jack Daniel's or a 75% goat's milk feta tastes like, it doesn't fit the industry standard of the ingredients.

                                However, the fact that Jack Daniels is made in Tennessee instead of Kentucky is not why it fails to be bourbon. Such geographic boundaries I'm personally not sympathetic to based on my own views, but thank you for explaining the process.

                        2. re: cheesemaestro

                          Agreed. Where I shop, the green can is sold in the dried pasta\jarred sauce aisle; not where real cheese is sold. I was reminded of this thread today: I took mom food shopping and as we were sailing up that aisle I asked her (cheese snob that she is) if she wanted a green can of Parm; it cracks her up every time.

                          1. re: gaffk

                            Sure it's real. In the sense that it actually exists. Heh, heh...

                          2. re: cheesemaestro

                            @ cheesemaestro

                            Thanks. That's just what I wanted to know. They can call anything Parmesan in the US ("real" or not), while in Europe Parmesan is parmigiano-reggiano.

                            I am curious (up to a point) about what kind of cheese (they call it cheese and not "cheese product," don't they?) goes into the green can and with what kind of cynicism it can be called "Parmesan" and indeed who buys it. Is parmigiano-reggiano available in US supermarkets? grated parmigiano-reggiano?

                            And a moment of silence for the 300,000 forms of parmigiano-reggiano that fell down when their storage structures were destroyed in the recent earthquake in northern Italy.

                            1. re: mbfant

                              "Is parmigiano-reggiano available in US supermarkets? grated parmigiano-reggiano?"

                              The answer to your first question is, of course, "Yes." Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is stamped on the rind and is widely available in US supermarkets. And there are some supermarkets -- I'm thinking of Wegmans in my area -- that have grated Parmigiano Reggiano available in the cheese department, right where the blocks of the cheese are sold.

                              But, according to Wikipedia, something labeled "Parmesan" MIGHT be a totally different product: "The name Parmesan is also used for cheeses which imitate Parmigiano-Reggiano, with phrases such as "Italian hard cheese" adopted to skirt legal constraints."

                              1. re: CindyJ

                                Thank you. So the bottom line is that in the US "parmesan" can mean anything, and we still don't know who is keeping the green box in business.

                                1. re: mbfant

                                  "and we still don't know who is keeping the green box in business"

                                  I know you haven't lived in the States in a while, but there is a vast population here between the coasts whose idea of Italian food is the restaurant chain Olive Garden. They are the ones keeping the "green box in business." Not everyone is as educated, or cares to be for that matter, in the finer points of cheese as we CH snobs are. We must always remember that when speaking from our soap boxes. :)

                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                    ...and maybe there are those who see the ~$18-20/lb price of "authentic" Parmesan and compare it to the cost of the green can, and their purchase decision becomes a "no-brainer."

                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                      CindyJ you are right. I grew up with the green can, AND Chef Boy Ar Dee boxed pizza and spaghetti and I loved them, until I had the real thing(s) of course.
                                      I was staying with a friend last summer and she has the green can in the cabinet. I didn't say a word, money is tight.

                                      1. re: laliz

                                        "I didn't say a word, money is tight."

                                        Great point laliz. We must always remember that here on CH.

                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                          I sometimes buy it. I don't love it, and I surely wouldn't compare it to true parmigiano-reggiano. But having grown up in the Midwest, I'm "used" to it, and prefer having it rather than nothing in my kitchen. Because of that, when money's tight and I can't afford the $6 for a wedge of what I usually have, the green can gets me through.

                                          While certainly not always the case, there are times when the bills have stretched us to the point of wondering how we're going to make it to the next paycheck. When that happens, as much of a "foodie" as I may be, convenience products like the infamous green can help us stretch the budget enough that we can still buy fresh fruits, veggies, and meat. I'd much rather rely on canned "parmesan" than canned mystery meat or soggy, colorless, scary green beans.

                                          1. re: ttoommyy

                                            True, enough. And, if found in a position where the green can is being passed around the table, you can always choose to pass it up.

                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                              Like others here, I grew up with the green can, and I liked it. I remember going into Boston one day when I was a teenager and picking up a wedge of Gourmandise from the one store that then carried a small selection of imported foods. For those of you not familiar with Gourmandise, it's a French semi-soft cheese that is spreadable. It's made from a mixture of cheeses and flavored with kirsch or walnuts. I was excited by my new discovery, but when I brought the cheese home, my parents looked at me as if I had just stepped off a space ship from Mars. We had never had any cheese at home other than the stuff in the green can and supermarket cheeses like American, Swiss, Muenster and cheddar. It's been many years since I bought Gourmandise, but I still credit that first experience with starting me on the path toward exploring the world of cheeses.

                                            2. re: laliz

                                              I grew up with the green can, too, and it was regarded as something of an "exotic" ingredient in my childhood household. In fact, It'd be safe to assume that no one in my household had ever heard of, let alone tasted, REAL Parmigiano-Reggiano. Come to think of it, my world of cheese consisted of American cheese, cream cheese and occasionally muenster cheese. Nothing pungent, funky or stinky. Why...? Because they were pungent, funky or stinky -- who'd ever want to eat anything that smelled so awful?

                                              But I digress. The stuff in the green can was always used VERY sparingly, and if I were to guess, I'd say my mom still probably has a container of the stuff in her pantry -- and that it's probably older than most chowhounds reading this post.

                                              1. re: CindyJ

                                                Same here. Where I grew up, the only cheeses I had access to at home were Laughing Cow and Kraft's singles. The Green Can was only available at special places like Pizza Hut, and even then, it was a scarce commodity that I I felt we had to use sparingly.

                                                I am very glad I have moved on since then to the real stuff and have never looked back.

                                            3. re: CindyJ

                                              Just thinking out loud here, but I grew up with an Italian grandmother who only used the real thing. I haven't had Kraft in ages and I'm sure it is much cheaper per ounce. On the other hand, with real parmigiano or pecorino, you need so little. We buy a wedge, it lasts a month and we use it almost daily to sprinkle on veggies, bread or of course pasta.

                                              1. re: BubblyOne

                                                And when the wedge has been shaved down, I toss the rinds into a baggie and freeze them. Then, when I'm making soups or sauces, I toss a few in. YUM!

                                                1. re: CindyJ

                                                  Me too, and I love eating those rinds in soup!

                                          2. re: mbfant

                                            Once or twice a year when family is around, we'll have tuna noodle casserole with the Campbell's mushroom soup and all- childhood comfort food that still tastes oddly good even though you feel like you should know better. And for that family recipe, it needs a bit of a sprinkle of 'cheese dandruff' as we'd call the green can stuff in order to taste right. Parmigiano Reggiano is too strongly flavored for that purpose.

                                        2. re: mbfant

                                          Technically, I suppose that there's not even a legal barrier to calling an American-made cheese "Parmigiano-Reggiano." That's very unlikely to happen, though. The US is a huge market for the Italian cheese. Appropriating the cheese's name over here would engender massive protests in Italy and might even cause the Italian consortium that controls the production of P-R to refuse to export the cheese to the US. Also, every reputable American cheesemaker and cheesemonger recognizes P-R as one of the world's greatest cheeses and as one that is essentially inimitable. Even the best American Parmesans don't come close to the original in quality or flavor. I can't imagine anyone daring to use the Italian name.

                                          So imitation cheeses in the US and elsewhere will continue to be referred to as "Parmesan," although a few have been given more distinctive names, such as "Sarvecchio." In Argentina, where many people of Italian extraction live, the best known imitation of P-R comes from the R part of the name. It's called Reggianito.

                                          1. re: cheesemaestro

                                            Just wanted to piggy-back on Cheesemaestro's excellent posts:
                                            At this time, the US is not bound by AOC/PDO rules, so if they wanted to call any old sparkling wine champagne, they could, but would get a lot of grief from the EU and other appreciators of the real thing (think about our disdain for "Chinese knock-offs" of anything- it might even be superior, but not branded).
                                            The rules for "Parmesan" production in the US are part of the FDA and were written in the mid 1930s... let me repeat that: in the 1930s, though they have been tweaked a little every dozen years or so.. The things that define an "American" Parmesan are basic ingredients, water content, and allowable additives for color. No mention of the type of cows milk, terroir, aging conditions, etc... The stuff in the green can, by this definition is real Parmesan, just not up to the internationally recognized standard of export quality Reggiano.
                                            That's not to say we can't make our "Parmesan" at least as well as true P-R. In fact, the Wisconsin-made, pasteurized Sarvecchio CM mentioned actually beat Italian ParmRegg in an international competition in the Parmesan-class in 2011- the Italians were not happy.

                                            That said, I grew up with the stuff, consider it with some disdain, but will use it mixed into breadcrumbs for a crust.

                                            1. re: lunchbox

                                              Thanks for this post. You're quite right to point out that the FDA has a standard of identity for Parmesan, which corrects the misimpression (unintended) I may given that any cheese can be called "Parmesan" in the US as long as its maker claims that it is made in the style of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The FDA standard does say that the cheese must be hard, with no more than 32% moisture content and must be a cooked curd cheese (as is Parmigiano-Reggiano). Still, most American imitators age their cheese for considerably less time than the Italians. Parmigiano-Reggiano generally doesn't make it over to our shores until it has aged at least 18 months, and better quality P-R is aged even longer. Some American-made versions of Parmesan are aged less than a year

                                              Sarvecchio is a very good cheese, but isn't the same as Italian P-R. It stands up well on its own merits, but I wouldn't agree that it beats the best of what Italy has to offer.

                                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                Nah- I like the Sartori cheeses, but they really shouldn't be compared to their Italian counterparts!

                                                I just came from a pretty intense training and had some of this info at my fingertips- I wanted to share the FDA stuff with everyone on the thread- your posts remain, as always, informational, concise, and brilliant.