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What Went Wrong in Wisconsin's Biggest Cheese Heist

Thieves may have made off with 160,000 pounds of cheese in the famously fromage-y Midwestern state, but they failed to make one crucial consideration before they hauled off all that Parmesan.
Photo via Flickr user Skånska Matupplevelser

History and pop culture are full of infamous dastardly heists, from Carmen Sandiego and the Wet/Sticky Bandits to the gang that pulled off the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, not to mention the people that seemingly line up to steal one of four copies of Edvard Munch's "The Scream." And while Harry and Marv were just after your valuables, Ms. Sandiego and the art thieves were after a piece of our collective cultural heritage.


A bunch of lunatics on the loose in Wisconsin are a bit Carmen Sandiego and a bit Harry and Marv: They're stealing precious Wisconsin cheese, but thanks to their greed and idiocy, they couldn't truly pull off their big heist.

Last week, 70,000 pounds of cheese were stolen from a cheese store in Germantown, Wisconsin, and later recovered in Milwaukee. The cheese, which was stored in a trailer, was lifted from a parking lot at 12:20 AM on Friday. The trailer was found empty and abandoned later that morning, and the cheese was recovered later that night. Another 90,000 pounds of Parmesan stolen from a Marshfield store a few days before hasn't been recovered—yet.

READ MORE: These Italian Criminal Masterminds Heisted $875,000 Worth of Parmesan

"We lost all this cheese for someone who is a complete imbecile," Tyson Wehrmeister, the co-owner, general manager and buyer for Mars Cheese Castle (which actually looks like a castle) told Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV. Mars Cheese Castle itself was not a victim of a theft, but the outrage was palpable for fellow Wisconsin cheesemongers like Wehrmeister.

"I know a lot of cheesemakers that if they took that kind of hit, they'd be out of business," he said. "A cheese like that, not available for use, it saddens me."

Wehrmeister says that the Germantown thieves' undoing was selling cheese on the cheap—they tried to hawk their contraband cheese for just a dollar a pound. No self-respecting Wisconsin retailer would expect to pay so little, nor would they buy cheese to sell without knowing its source. Cheese is tracked by the FDA, USDA ,and the Department of Agriculture, ensuring a cheese's farm-to-table provenance.


"If they were going to steal it and take it to someplace, they should have brought it to Chicago, to Little Italy, and they would have had a much easier way to sell that there," Wehrmeister told WTMJ-TV. "Because, 'Hey, it's Parm! Fuggedaboutit!'"

And while cheesy jokes have been cracked about who might have committed the crime—rodents?—this isn't a Mickey Mouse operation. Seventy-thousand dollars in Parmesan weighs between 25,000 and 35,000 pounds. The Daily Mail points out that's roughly the equivalent weight of 240 cows, and officials say this is more than a one- or two-man job. Given that federal agencies are involved in the sale of cheese, the crimes are federal in nature, too.

READ MORE: What Kind of Monster Would Steal the World's Most Expensive Cheese Slicer?

Perhaps Wisconsin cheesemakers and sellers should have seen it coming. Last fall, $43,000 worth of Comte was stolen in France, and just before that, $875,000 of Parmigiano-Reggiano went missing in Italy. As of 2012, cheese was the most shoplifted grocery item of all.

The cheese thieves are still on the loose, and the Parm is still out there, so cheese-buyers and sellers are likely to remain on edge. But, if the seal on the Parmesan is broken, federal law states it can't be sold and it will likely go to waste.

Police are still trying to figure out what the thieves are doing with all that cheese. When and if it is recovered, let's hope they don't do what Russia does with imported cheese—burn it.