Parmigiano Reggiano has used tracking codes for two decades, but now they are going high tech.
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Wheels of parmigiano reggiano cheese
Credit: Vicki Jauron / Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images

Most people understand (hopefully) that when they grab Kraft Parmesan Cheese, they're not getting official Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy. But less casual Parmigiano fraud is actually a serious issue for producers. Like many European products, true "Parmesan" cheese has a protected designation of origin, and according to the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium (the official trade group for the cheese) the amount of fraud is almost as big as product sales: Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano sales are around $2.44 billion while fraudulent cheese is a $2.08 billion market.

But now, Parmigiano Reggiano has a new high-tech partner to fight against counterfeit cheese and it involves technology you shouldn't even be able to notice. The Consortium has teamed up with Kaasmerk Matec — a leading producer of casein cheesemarks — and p-Chip — which creates digital tracing technology — to put tiny, food-safe transponders in legitimate wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano.

For the past two decades, Parmigiano Reggiano wheels have already featured a unique alphanumeric tracking code, but now, the Consortium has tested embedding p-Chip micro transponders into the casein label. As the Consortium explains, "The innovation combines food-safe Casein labels with the p-Chip micro transponder — a blockchain crypto-anchor that creates a digital 'twin' for physical items. This scannable new food tag is smaller than a grain of salt and highly durable, delivering next-generation visibility and traceability."

"By integrating p-Chip micro transponders into Casein tags, [the Consortium] can better control its inventory, protect and differentiate its products against look and sound-alike brands and have access to unmatchable track-and-trace technology to protect itself in the case of recalls or other issues," Joe Wagner, CEO of p-Chip Corporation, stated in the announcement.

A worker applies a digital food-safe label to cheese
Credit: Courtesy of Parmigiano Reggiano

The Consortium states that the new smart labels will be added to 100,000 Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheels in the second quarter of 2022 as a final testing phase, after which, the group will determine whether to make adding this technology as a permanent part of the cheese's production.

Somewhat ironically, the Consortium points out that this cutting-edge technology is actually a great way to protect the cheese's centuries' old legacy. "Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the world's oldest and most famous cheeses, and it is a product that symbolizes Italian produce," Nicola Bertinelli, president of the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, stated. "Since the establishment of our Consortium in 1934, we have worked to convey the value of our product globally and distinguish it from similar-sounding products on the market that do not meet our strict requirements for production and area of origin. By being the first to incorporate these secure digital labels onto our cheese wheels, we can continue to ensure consumer safety, bringing the traceability and the authentication of our products to meet industry 4.0 technological targets."

Which is the long way of saying they're doing everything they can to ensure that hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano you're nibbling is the real thing.