After two years of robbing Italian warehouses blind, police have finally caught the group behind a massive series of cheese thefts. The gang of gourmands are being charged with the theft of 2,039 wheels of the region’s iconic Parmegiano-Reggiano and is worth up to $875,000.
Cheese theft may sound frivolous, but Parmegiano-Reggiano is no joke. Nicknamed “the King of all Cheeses,” only cheeses made in specific regions of Italy can legally be called “Parmegiano-Reggiano,” much like Champagne or Kobe beef. Parmegiano-Reggiano producers must follow strict guidelines before their product can get an official seal of authenticity and an individual ID code used to track each wheel of cheese, Alex Swerdloff writes for Vice Munchies:
Authorities are claiming that that the merry band of thieves travelled [sic] 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.
The cheese is so expensive that some Italian banks will even accept wheels of Parmegiano-Reggiano as loan collateral, CNN Money reported in 2013. But while this might have been biggest cheese heists in recent years, it’s far from the first. In fact, cheese is the most stolen food on the planet, Megan Gibson reported for Time in 2011. According to data gathered by Britain’s Centre for Retail Research, four percent of all the cheese produced in the world is stolen each year, a stunningly high rate for a single type of food.
The cheese heists don’t stop at Italy: in 2013, a man accused of stealing 21 tons of Wisconsin cheese worth about $200,000 was arrested while on the run in New Jersey and earlier this year a truck trailer transporting $85,000 worth of mozzarella cheese was stolen en route to a Florida distribution center.