The Italian consortium that produces the renowned Parmigiano Reggiano cheese according to medieval methods has turned to a distinctly modern technology in its fight against the booming counterfeit market.
The Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium, a trade group founded in 1934 and comprised of producers from the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantova and Bologna, who work to defend and protect the authenticity of the cheese, is conducting the final phase of a test that will see 100,000 wheels of the so-called ‘King of Cheeses’ include a digital smart label meant to guarantee the authenticity of the cheese in the interest of producers, the distributors, and consumers.
The consortium has partnered with the US-based p-Chip Corporation and Dutch cheese mark company Kaasmerk Matec to launch a plaque made from casein, integrated with a silicon micro-transponder combined with a blockchain anchor that creates a digital “twin” for physical objects.
Although sales of the protected Parmigiano Reggiano almost reached €2.5 billion in 2019, the counterfeit market is worth almost as much, at around €2 billion.
The new digital smart label for food will be applied in the second quarter of 2022, and represents the final phase of large-scale testing before evaluating the possibility of extending this technology to the entire production of Parmigiano Reggiano.
The tag, which will be made with milk proteins and therefore edible and safe, will include a unique and progressive alphanumeric code and a QR code which constitute the identity card of the cheese, making it possible to identify its origin at any time and in any place.
It is smaller than a grain of rice and highly resistant, and will be inserted into the cheese rind.
Cheese made in the same way as Parmigiano Reggiano but produced anywhere else but in the regions it was developed in cannot legally be called Parmigiano Reggiano. In the EU, that protection extends to parmesan.
Nicola Bertinelli, President of the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, said: “As one of the world’s oldest and most famous cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano is a symbol of high-quality Italian products. Since the Consortium was founded in 1934, we have aimed 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 authentication of our products to meet industry 4.0 technological targets.”
Joe Wagner, CEO of p-Chip Corporation, said: “We’re pleased to partner with a leading global brand as the Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano to bring world-class, disruptive tracing technology to the food industry.
“By integrating p-Chip micro transponders into casein tags, the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium can better control its inventory and 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. I look forward to working with Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano as they realise the full potential this technology holds for their business.”
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