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Say Cheese

The government’s role has always been to guard a country’s precious resources. Like—in Italy’s case—Parmesan cheese.
As Reuters reports, producers of Parmigiano Reggiano are petitioning the Italian government to institute a price fix, as wholesale prices drop ever-lower. As lifelong cheesemakers contend with higher prices of milk and increased distribution costs, they can no longer turn a profit—pushing more producers towards bankruptcy.

Parmigiano Reggiano, of course, is a staple of Italian cuisine, and traditionally, only cheese coming from the town of Parma in Emilia-Romagna could bear its name. Said to date from the Middle Ages, the cheese is mentioned in Boccaccio’s epic Decameron, and was widely known throughout Europe by the sixteenth century. Today, the time-honed process takes over a year. Milk from grass-fed cows is curdled, cooled and packed into molds that age for twelve months, when each round is inspected by the master grader—who taps each wheel with a hammer before deeming it acceptable and stamping the rind with a Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano seal of approval.

But while the cheese remains the same, the market has not—Italians eat less and less Parmigiano, and cheesemakers have a harder time selling their product. Additionally, more and more regions of Italy are producing their own cheese: "Up until a few years ago, parmesan was only produced part of the year in Parma," says chef Cesare Casella, who recently opened Salumeria Rosi, an Italian meat specialty shop, in Manhattan. "Now, the problem is overproduction." So the government is being asked to intervene, as the Coldiretti farmers group cites the potential decline of a nationally recognized industry. Berlusconi, in turn, has called a summit of government talks to address the issue. And in order to distinguish themselves, chef Casella notes, "Producers are trying to make better quality cheese with a higher standard of milk selection." Parmiggiano Reggiano isn’t going anywhere—but if farmers have their way, the prices won’t go anywhere, either.


osabado • 01/06/2009
A king can only rule for so long.
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