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Microchips by Big Parma

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

By Gwen Carroll and Winston Chu Sept. 28, 2023 One does not normally eat the rind of their authentic parmesan cheese—but if they did, they could come across a tiny silicone surprise. The surprise in question would be a microchip the size of a grain of salt integrated into authentic parmesan, or Parmigiano Reggiano, cheese by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium (PRC).

Peter Yoon Art

Half a square millimeter in size, the microchips are embedded in the outer layer of the parmesan’s rind, which is called the casein. Manufactured by p-Chip, the chips help customers identify legitimate parmesan cheese, as they can be scanned to access information such as each cheese’s quality, origin and date of production, as stated by La Voce di New York. Although they are not yet widespread—the PRC reports that in 2022, only 100,000 wheels were chipped for a test run as compared to its annual several million—the new technology may become par for the course if it proves successful.

The information about the cheese gained upon scanning the chip is stored on the blockchain, a digital library of information strung together in a way that prevents the data from being edited. Blockchains encrypt stored data, meaning the only possible point of data corruption is at the source itself. As blockchains allow the data about each cheese’s origins to remain the same from production to sales, they are a useful method to verify product authenticity.

Peter Yoon Art

The microchip is far from easy to come across—not just because of its miniscule size, but because it is only present in authentic parmesan. In Europe, any cheese labeled as Parmigiano Reggiano is guaranteed to be fully authentic, but outside, according to

the PRC, Parmigiano Reggiano makes up just over 6% of parmesan cheese on the market. Around the globe, counterfeit cheesemakers borrow parmesan’s fame as the “king of cheese” in search of profit.


“Microchips are very efficient for countering counterfeit goods, but production on such a large scale would be expensive. QR codes would work better, since they are cheaper to mass produce,” Junior Nadia Karpenko said.

However, no method is perfect: QR codes and other visual labels are easily duplicated and degrade as the cheese ages, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips are too bulky and Near Field Communication (NFC) tags must be scanned up close. Microchips, however, come with the ease of size and convenience of integration: embedded in the casein, they are easily accessible by inexpensive equipment and can withstand the aging process, making them ideal for verifying the authenticity of the cheese.

“I care a lot about the authenticity of my food. When I eat something, I want to know exactly what it is I am consuming. People deserve to know what they are putting in themselves and counterfeit goods are a threat to that—people with dietary restrictions and allergies should have their needs respected. For instance, I am vegetarian, so food branded as such should not be contaminated with meat,” Sophomore Suraga Nallan said.

The need for verification of authentic parmesan arose not long after World War I, when Italian immigrants in Argentina made counterfeit Parmigiano Reggiano called “reggianito”, according to the Guardian. Since then, fake parmesan has dominated the global market, making Europe the PRC’s only safe haven. However, this may soon change, as the PRC reports that it was recently able to prevent “KRAFT PARMESAN CHEESE” from becoming trademarked in Ecuador, a significant win for the Consortium considering the PRC is rarely acknowledged outside of Europe. It also details that although the microchips’ efficacy is still being tested, they may soon become the standard mark of an authentic cheese if such a verification method continues to grow in success.

 

About the Contributors

Gwen Carroll Feature School and Community News page editor Gwen Carroll is a junior and the Page Editor for Community News and Feature School. She enjoys playing rhythm games in her free time. Her favorite subject is English and is interested in psychology and law.

Winston Chu staff writer Winston Chu is a sophomore at Leland High. He enjoys writing, debating, and sleeping.

Peter Yoon artist Peter Yoon is a sophomore at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time, he likes to listen to music, draw, and sleep.

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