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Shelves of parmesan (Flickr Kelly Hau Photography)

Parmesan industry devastated by Italy's earthquake

23rd May 2012

Millions of pounds worth of parmesan cheese has been destroyed in Sunday's earthquake in northern Italy

Italy's earthquake that struck last Sunday killing seven people has also had a devastating effect on the country's culinary industry. The flat agricultural region north of Bologna, where the epicentre of the earthquake hit, is known for its parma ham and bolognese sauce, but it is parmesan producers that were hit the worst.

More than 300,000 wheels of the cheese fell in the quake and reports of damage to the industry range between £64.4 million and £194 million.

Each parmesan wheel weighs 40kg and ages for 12 to 24 months on high shelving, which “toppled over like dominoes,” according to one facility manager. Warehouses will take weeks to clear and cheeses which have broken open may turn mouldy before they can be reached.

Ten storage sites were hit by the quake on Sunday and staff are urgently picking through the damage for unscathed wheels and looking for alternative storage, which must be at the correct temperature and humidity.

Parmesan cheese may only carry that name if it has been aged in the region, but concerns are being raised about whether this will now be possible. Producers are seeking an exception to the rule while the rebuilding of facilities is underway.

Parmesan cheese is considered so valuable that a wheel costing £338, when matured for two years, can be held by the bank as collateral on producers' loans. The loss is “a disaster,” said producer Dante Caretti, “two years work just thrown away. There will be a big hole in the market – you can't just conjure up cheese which took 24 months to produce." However, according to Ivano Chezzi, the manager of another facility, the huge loss does not necessarily mean we will see a rise in the price of parmesan because there has been a recent increase in its production.

The quake has also impacted producers of prosciutto ham with hundreds of pigs killed when the barns they were kept in collapsed. The Prime Minister, Mario Monti, has declared a state of emergency in the region and will release government funds. Aftershocks continue and more than 5,000 are left homeless in the aftermath.

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