By Spencer Ackerman
Hanna Lundqvist at Democracy Arsenal flags a Wall Street Journal story reporting that Italy’s Berlusconi government is bailing out the country’s troubled Parmagiano-Reggiano producers. She writes, “I think we can all agree that such bailouts and the misfortunes of Italian cheesemakers are no laughing matter.” I don’t think we can! Consider:
“Parmigiano is almost indispensable,” says Antonio Piermani, 41 years old, who owns a wine bar in Rome. Mr. Piermani buys three kilos a month, which he grates over pasta dishes. Buying something other than parmigiano, he says, “would compromise the taste of the entire dish.”
Insane. We can agree about the importance of P-R to accent the flavor of many a pasta dish, to say nothing of tomato-based soups. But that’s just it — an accent. We’re skirting on the edge of a garnish here, a few microplane-scrapes worth of cheese dust. A back-of-the-envelope calculation based on the figures in the WSJ story suggests that the Italians are sinking $33 million into bailing out the cheesemakers. In a global economic meltdown. This is a wise investment?
It’s not clear from the story that the Berlusconi government is even asking for anything from the cheesemakers, despite an asinine structuring of the Parmigiano-Reggiano industry:
At the root of the parmigiano problem is that the industry is made up of about 430 small, family-owned businesses that dot the plains outside the northern city of Parma. One consortium of parmigiano makers, called ParmaReggio, is the biggest entity, with 18.5% of the Italian market. But most producers are like Mr. Iemmi, who runs a small business with seven employees.
Despite their woes, businesses like Mr. Iemmi’s have resisted consolidation. Mr. Iemmi admits that “there are too many of us.” But he adds: “We have an ancient mind-set. Each one of us wants to take care of his own little business.”
You want a bailout? Agree to a consolidation package. This is some bullshit.