Against the Parmagiano-Reggiano Bailout

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.


7 responses to “Against the Parmagiano-Reggiano Bailout

  1. verplanck colvin

    P-R was correctly identified by Mario Batali as the undisputed king of cheeses. It’s more than just a garnish, it’s dessert as well (a piece of P-R with a drop of nicely aged balsamic vinegar is heaven).

    It would be horrible to see the care small producers take with their cheeses abandoned for large industrial processing. I hope a middle ground between this and the status quo could be reached.

  2. Italians are holding onto their last vestiges of cultural identity, and I’m okay with that because it is utterly delicious. Just a garnish? Bullshit. Italy cannot live without its parmigiano. You take away the parimigiano, and the Italians know they’ll have nothing but shitty RAI programming and the Azzuri.

    Wait, did I make a cow pun without realizing it? Fa schifo.

  3. Why must everything become consolidated? I’m not necessarily for bailouts (I obviously don’t have a pony in this particular race since I’m a US citizen), but why must we push consolidation? Why must big corporate crap be the answer, this obviously goes against slow food and non-corporate agriculture.

  4. Midwest Product

    You want a bailout? Agree to a consolidation package.

    This from a man who I’m sure would be happy to lecture us on how awful it is that Americans buy food produced on factory farms.

  5. Charles George

    I haven’t been able to find Parmeginaio regianio recently, only seeing the lesser versions at my favorite grocery store (fairway, Harlem).

    I bought some, but it’s not the same. And the american mass produced stuff? Foghetabout it, flavorless bullshit.

    Italy, your bailout will help me get great cheese, I support it.

  6. Consolidate?

    Here’s what you end up with:

  7. I like PR and would be disappointed to see it become something different. It is a global cheese touchstone, and it needs to continue to be available, and arrow in the cheesy quiver, if you will.

    That said, it does offer an opportunity to sample the impact of some non-trad cheese options with some of your old favorite dishes. Pecorino, Grana Padano, Asiago, Fontina, Gorgonzola. Get wacky! You might discover something subtly awesome…


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