Cheese Heists, now with lowjack rinds

What was your cheese missing? How about Dunning-Krugerrands and the tangy flavor of mysterious heavy metals?

The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium says the amount of cheese fraud is almost as big as product sales: sales are around $2.44 billion while fraudulent cheese is a $2.08 billion market. [...]

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."

So the blorkchonk grift here, the big innovation is, "the serial number is easier to read."


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20 Responses:

  1. Dave Polaschek says:

    Huh. And this is supposed to make me want to buy that as opposed to some Dunning-Krugerrand-free version? Bring on the cheap counterfeits.

  2. Andrew Klossner says:

    I can't find a datasheet for the P-chip transponder. That's extremely unusual. I've done a lot of work with RFID chips; there's always a publicly available datasheet with the NDA parts redacted.

    From the non-technical press releases, the only thing this chip contains is a unique number, which it transmits when illuminated (to provide power) and interrogated. All that verbosity about blockchain refers to the possibility of adding the pair (cheese wheel serial number, unique number) to a chain somewhere. But all the data records are controlled by the Parmesan cartel, so that would be silly; there's no need for decentralized authentication. Presumably what they're really going to do is track that pair in a database.

    But a "food-contact safe" chip in a block of cheese? What's my confidence that it's removed from the chunk I buy at Whole Foods? The "counterfeit" (a.k.a. non-cartel) cheese is looking safer to me.

    • Paul White says:

      That's because it isn't standard in any whey. But it is proprietary, and thus impossible to duplicate.

      You would have to cut off the milk-based glue label to completely remove this thing. Though, that's the case with such labels, which would otherwise be stamped with nominally food-safe ink, anyway.

    • David says:

      There's an NIH paper about using them in a lab, and that links to one of their patents.
      I suppose that's as close to a data-sheet as we can get, at least without an NDA.

  3. CSL3 says:

    I wonder: do they sell this cheese to Chipotle?

    I ask because Chipotle uses shitty cheese, Chipotle dishes have metal in them, and Chipotle now accepts cryto - something they're inexplicably proud of.

    I've only eaten there once and will never return (pretty sure they were the recipients of the delivery in your "New Flesh" piece from yesterday), but I just see them as using the lack of logic that think putting metal trackers in something digestible couldn't possibly go wrong.

  4. CSL3 says:

    Huh. I wonder if they supply cheese for Chipotle, which accepts crypto payments and is known to have metal in its food.

  5. mdhughes says:

    "Fradulent" parmesan cheese. It's still cheese, yes? It's the exact same kind of cheese, just not branded/paid kickbacks to some politician? Gimme more of that. I would never eat non-fradulent cheese, if I could verify it.

    • jwz says:

      YOU WOULDN'T DOWNLOAD [ a cheese ]

    • tfb@ says:

      It's still cheese.  And I'm sure if it was being sold as cheese, or parmesan-style cheese, they would have nothing to say about it (well, they'd probably foam at the mouth at the 'parmesan-style' thing but hopefully there is nothing they can do).  But it's not: it's being sold pretending that it is something that it isn't.

      The pretending-to-be-parmesan may be better than parmesan for all I know, in the same way that Californian wine is often better than French wine, but neither of them should pretend.

      The blockchain chip thing is just stupid though.  I mean, obviously, the right approach would be to encode the identity of the thing in the some of the junk DNA of the cows the milk came from.  Actually I can reveal that this is what they do: the whole chip nonsense is just to send the cheese-forgers off on a wild goose chase.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      Who says the crooks who are lying to you about cheese have weirdly decided they're only going to lie specifically about whether it's legally parmesan ? It's an odd line in the sand to draw and I think they're going to shift whatever they can and tell whatever stories they can get away with so long as the money is good.

      We're not talking about big leaps here either, this isn't "This guy is my weed dealer, but marijuana is illegal so I'm sure he can also organize a bank robbery" - one lie is much the same as another.

      In the UK there was a big deal years back where investigators discovered the meat in some products labelled "beef" didn't have any cow DNA. What it did have was horse DNA. Sure enough wholesale "beef" sales had become so contaminated with illegally co-mingled horse meat that the cheapest "beef" mince on the market was just pure horse. Now, you can eat horse, some people do - but I think it's reasonable to say that people would expect to have the ingredients say "Horse" if there's horse in their cheap microwave meal, not "Beef".

    • Kyzer says:

      Well, the purpose of PDO is that the food/drink has a specific tie to where it was made. If you like its flavour/texture/whatever, that's thanks to the local soil, air, water, etc. or the traditional skills of {region}... if you repeat it in some other place, it may be similar but it won't be "exact". If you have the tastebuds of an oaf and can't tell the difference, buy something branded "Italian foot shavings", leave the name "{region} {foodstuff}" unsullied.

      The PDO has another benefit; to be in the {region} {foodstuff} club, local producers agree to not fuck with the process, e.g. not add antifreeze to their wine. Although it hasn't entirely stopped the Italian Mafia adulterating olive oil, that requires police raids. High-prestige food production attracts a lot of shenanigans is what I'm saying.

      • Nick Lamb says:

        PDO by protecting process also protects specific career paths. Some specific textiles are hand made, you could probably make a superior cloth on various metrics with modern automation but by law the cloth with that name was made by hand (using piano-sized mechanical looms, but by hand) which means if that's what you want to do, you can get paid to do that, even though arguably it doesn't make sense because a machine loom could make that fabric better and cheaper (except that invariably somebody would cut corners)

        I don't feel nostalgic about these things. I don't especially value for example "hand crafted in Vi" web sites over well written content on yet another generic PHP blog. But some people do, and if we got rid of PDO all these things die out.

        Of course the PDO definitions can be changed to suit the producers, a friend was lamenting over lunch yesterday that if you buy their favorite cheese under its protected name it's not the same, the cheese was supposed to be made in a certain way but for safety reasons they now pasteurize the milk, and the unpasteurized version is not legally PDO designated, so you can buy "authentic" cheese with the wrong name (and a small risk from Listeria etc.) or you can buy the cheese with the right name but to a discerning individual it tastes a bit "wrong" now.

        • Kyzer says:
          This reminded me of Lenny Henry buying unpasteurised Stilton from the back of a van, under the noses of the Cheese Police. I couldn't find a clip, but I accidentally learned of the Great Cheese Riot of 1766 while searching for it, thanks to this 2015 Early Day Motion:

          That this House notes the 250th anniversary of the Cheese Wars that led to rioting in Leicestershire and Derbyshire, which forced local militia forces being called-out to protect shipments of cheese that had dramatically risen in prices as a result of the French revolutionary wars; hopes that the Cheese Wars of the 1760s can be avoided in the run up to Christmas by the Government taking decisive action to allow Stilton cheeses, made in the traditional English way using unpasteurised milk, to be officially described for what they are, which is stilton cheese; regrets Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs bureaucracy that means that any cheese made using traditional methods, as used for 4,000 years in England, are currently stopped from being sold as stilton; further notes that the mass production of stilton cheese has taken place in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire ever since the farming methods of Lord Turnip Townsend improved milk yields from cows to allow mass production of cheese; recognises that the traditional method of making stilton cheese sustains an important dairy herd which pays a significant premium of 45p a litre for its milk; and claims that it is the right of the English people to be able to enjoy traditional English stilton at Christmas, as has happened for centuries, without the ignominy of having to call it something else.

  6. jwilkes says:

    When I visited the libertarian flotilla I tried to order some parmesan from the mainland. Luckily the site I used took Bitcoin which of course kept the government out of my cheese purchase.

    What I failed to notice was that cheese maker used a centralized database for cheese tracking. And by the time it arrived the Italian government had raided the company, causing my cheese verification app to time out.

    Everyone praised the flavor that night, but I was too ashamed to tell them how my oversight left the cheese's authenticity in question.

    But I guarantee you the next time I visit, my parmesan will have at least six confirmations. Thanks, p-chip!

  7. MattyJ says:

    Wake me when I can buy a Non-Fungable Toscanello.

  8. Eric says:

    Some big innovator needs to build a $900 knife that scans the chip, verifies it in the cloud, and will only let you slice the cheese if it's determined to be authentic.

  9. LaughingBubba says:

    Cheeses H Heist. More reason to source one’s own curds and whey and not be reliant on centralised cheese production.

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