Five years ago, Michelle Myrter told Cheese Market News that ever since she was a little girl, she has been helping her father with his cheese company.
"As a little kid, she did paperwork and all kinds of different things. She does an incredible job," George Myrter said at the time. At the time, the Myrters were hoping that Michelle Myrter's own kids would one day take over the business, making it a three-generation cheese dynasty.
Well, things have taken a sad turn for Michelle Myrter and her family's businesses. Their Pennsylvania cheese manufacturing business has been accused of conspiracy in selling imitation "Parmesan" and "Romano" cheese that actually contains other cheeses, such as Cheddar and Swiss. Universal Cheese & Drying Inc. and International Packing LLC were charged on Tuesday following a plea agreement.
Mislabeling of cheese is a big problem worldwide. As we've previously explored, in Italy, the designation of "Parmigiano-Reggiano" means a product made under government supervision from only a small and specific geographical region. Italy is only too happy to litigate when someone disparages or misuses the name of the cheese.
But even we heathens in the US take our cheese fairly seriously. Under US Food and Drug Administration standards, cheeses labeled as Parmesan and Romano must conform to certain standards. Allegedly, Ms. Myrter's companies' cheese did not—because they contained trims of other, more mundane cheeses like Cheddar … and we all know Cheddar is the Muggle of the cheese world.
Myrter is the president of Castle Cheese Inc. and a corporate officer in both of the other companies involved in the fraud. She has been charged with a misdemeanor of "aiding and abetting the introduction of misbranded and adulterated food."
Her attorney, Stephen Stallings, says the plea agreement calls for probation for Myrter and $500,000 in restitution and forfeitures for each of the companies—a total of $1 million, which will be paid by the companies.
Stallings said the companies cooperated fully with the FDA investigation and that Myrter was charged under a law that holds corporate officers strictly liable for violations by their companies regardless of whether the officer knew about the violations.
"Ms. Myrter was, unfortunately, the corporate officer at the time of the relevant events, but has not been charged with any felony nor accused of any criminal intent," he said.
Castle Cheese Inc. is reportedly under bankruptcy protection.