Italy’s Parmesan thieves nab €6m of cheese in two years

A spike in cheese theft has seen robbers make off with an estimated €6 million worth of Italy's prized Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over the last two years.

Italy's Parmesan thieves nab €6m of cheese in two years
Rampant Parmesan robbers have stolen €6 million of cheese in the last two years. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

“All in all 15,000 wheels have been stolen,” Riccardo Deserti, director of Italy's Parmesan Cheese Consortium, told La Stampa.

According to Deserti, Parmesan warehouses are soft targets for thieves, who can easily make off with thousands of euros worth of the cheese in each heist. Just one 40-kilogram wheel, aged 24 months, of cheese is worth €500.

“The problem is, we're talking about rural, artisanal producers, small businesses that are often not equipped with advanced anti-theft systems.”

Precious Parmigiano-Reggiano is only produced in the countryside surrounding the cities of Modena, Bologna, Reggio Emilia, Parma and Mantua in the Emilia-Romagna region.

The thieves modus operandi is always the same. They stake out isolated, rural warehouses and strike in the dead of night, loading the stolen merchandise into the back of vans and making a speedy getaway.

Last week, 150 wheels were taken from the Ronconcesi warehouse outside Parma. It was the second time the warehouse had been targeted in the last year.

“We think stolen cheese is taken to eastern Europe and southern Italy to be fenced,” a police spokesperson told La Stampa.

While each wheel carries a traceable watermark, thieves simply cut stolen cheese up to make it untraceable, before selling it at provincial markets.

In order to counteract the phenomenon, police are stepping up night patrols in countryside areas and stopping and searching vans in a bid to catch gangs of cheese robbers. They are also advising local manufacturers on how they can make their warehouses more secure.

A recent operation saw a gang from Albania and Puglia arrested, but experts say there is more to be done.

“The number of thefts has remained consistent,” Deserti explained. “The main problem is that the warehouses are too accessible.” 

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 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

Italian police on Saturday arrested a mafia member suspected of killing two alleged Chinese prostitutes and a Colombian sex worker in Rome, local media reported.

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

The bodies of the two Chinese women were discovered in a residential building in the upmarket Prati district on Thursday morning, while the body of the South American was found in an apartment in the same neighbourhood an hour later.

All three victims were stabbed, according to Italian media reports.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, footage from surveillance cameras allowed police to identify 51-year-old Giandavide De Pau, who had been prosecuted in the past for drug trafficking and sexual assault.

The suspect is reportedly a member of a mafia clan headed by Michele Senese, who is currently serving a life sentence. De Pau is believed to have been one of Senese’s closest collaborators, acting as his personal driver and handyman.

In 2008 and 2011, the suspect had also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

It is unknown whether the suspected killer was carrying out a mafia hit or acting alone, possibly under the influence of drugs, which were found at the home of some family members where he is believed to have sought refuge after the police manhunt got underway, Corriere della Sera reported.

Several newspapers had warned of a possible “serial killer” in the Italian capital.

The body of one of the Chinese victims was spotted by a neighbour where it lay, naked on a landing. The woman, believed to be in her 40s, had suffered head and stomach injuries, the newspaper said.

When police entered her apartment, they found the body of the second Chinese woman.

Nobody in the building appeared to have heard the murders take place, according to residents.

“Everybody knew there was a house of ill repute here, I’d see people arriving at 2:00 am, 3:00 am,” a woman who lived in the building told reporters.

The body of the Colombian, who was 65, was found by a friend, Corriere della Sera said.