In what is most certainly a grim sign of food depravity, a clandestine group of criminals were recently arrested by Italian authorities for the heinous act of stealing roughly €785,000 (US $875,000) worth of the nation's delicious, iconic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
The intrepid group of cheese thieves were arrested by police in Modena on Thursday for allegedly robbing the region of arguably its single greatest creation.
Authorities are claiming that that the merry band of thieves travelled throughout the Central and Northern regions of Italy in hopes of scouting out suitable warehouses and factories in which they might ply their shadowy trade. Throughout the course of their investigation, police were able to uncover some astonishingly complex tools for simple cheese thieves, including weapons, radios, tools used for breaking into targeted buildings, and electronics used to circumvent alarm systems. (Do you think we can bet on a gondola-driving Tom Cruise to accomplish an impossibly similar-sounding mission in his next cinematic escapade?)
According to Il Sole 24, the well-equipped gang of 11 individuals was successfully able to steal some 2,039 wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the course of roughly two years.
Apparently, our Italian friends are not the only cheese bandits around. In fact, a 2011 study by the Center for Retail Research in Britain found that cheese is the most commonly stolen food in the world. As Time reports, "According to the [Center's] data, an astonishing 4 percent of the world's cheese ends up stolen."
Well then. That might explain the young couple from Chattanooga who shoplifted 57 blocks of cheese from Wal-Mart this past winter. And in March, a trailer stuffed with $85,000 worth of shredded mozzarella cheese was reported missing at a truck stop in Florida.
The Italian thieves, however, are not some small-time dabblers in American or, God forbid, string cheese. Shredded mozzarella? Blocks of cheese? Seriously?
True Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese—the so-called "King of all Cheeses"—is made from unpasteurized cow's milk cheese, but not just any unpasteurized cow's milk cheese. To qualify for the legally protected name in Italy and the rest of the European Union, the cheese must be made only in the certain designated provinces of Italy. It also must meet strict production and quality criteria; a special seal guarantees its authenticity, and lists the age of the cheese, the name of the dairy that it comes from, the production month and year, and a special code that IDs the individual wheel.
Those Italian thieves went for the good stuff. Maybe we can get Massimo Bottura to whip up a commemorative dish honoring Parmesan lost in the line of duty like he did for the devastating 2012 earthquake.