Tags: parmesan | italy | bailout

Millions to Save a Few Cheesy Jobs

By Greg Brown   |   Monday, 15 Dec 2008 01:36 PM

While Congress, the White House, and Treasury play hot potato with the U.S. automaker bailout, the Italians are stepping in big on behalf of their cheese makers.

That’s right, parmesan cheese is getting a bailout.

Only 430 makers produce the acrid, hard cheese, among Americans a favorite on salads and over pasta dishes, yet Italy is buying up 100,000 wheels of the stuff, about 3 percent of production, at a cost of $68 million, reports the U.K. Independent.

Production costs have gotten too high, say the cheese men, and a third of them could be out of business.

"We just need a bit of time to reorganize ourselves," Giorgio Apostoli of Coldiretti, Italy's agriculture lobby, told the newspaper.

"This is a historic product with an ancient tradition. There ought to be policies to safeguard those who produce it."

Of course, if you think about it (not too hard, of course), this is Detroit’s argument, too. We’re different. Historic. Important.

Yet, unlike cheese-wheel makers, auto companies are very, very big, which is the real threat behind the automakers’ complaints: Save us, and you save yourselves. Let the Big Three go bankrupt, and it will be bad. We warned you.

Economist Mark Zandi guesses that 1 million people would be out of work if just GM fails, according to Bloomberg News.

But one carmaker going down “would be the start of a cascade of failures,” auto consultant Dennis Virag told the newswire. “The economy will be in chaos within weeks.”

Which brings us back to cheese.

The Italians are ready to throw down $68 million to safeguard 430 cheese makers. If Detroit were after parmesan money, the bailout would have to be $158 billion, not $34 billion.

Are American-made cars “historic” enough, are they “different” enough for that kind of largesse? Aside from the relative bargain, is it worth protecting at all? This is what the Southern senators are asking, in essence.

You can’t sell parmesan cheese in the European Union and call it parmesan, since the Italians control the name. Same reason Champagne is from one region in France and the same drink made in New York state is just “sparkling wine.”

If only Henry Ford had gotten rights to “automobile.”

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While Congress, the White House, and Treasury play hot potato with the U.S. automaker bailout, the Italians are stepping in big on behalf of their cheese makers.That’s right, parmesan cheese is getting a bailout.Only 430 makers produce the acrid, hard cheese, among...
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