How Trump’s tariffs are threatening Italy’s Parmesan cheese makers

Cheese makers plan to protest at US military bases around Italy if Donald Trump imposes crippling sanctions that would cost the Italian food industry billions.

How Trump's tariffs are threatening Italy's Parmesan cheese makers
Photos: AFP

Donald Trump’s tariffs war continues to send shockwaves through EU economies, Italy’s food industry being the latest chip on the negotiating table. 

The economic consequences of the ongoing commercial feud between the US and the EU – initially caused by a disagreement over EU subsidies given to Airbus – have become alarmingly clearer to Italian food producers.

Italian wines, citrus fruits and fruit juices would all be badly hit, amounting to a total of $5 to $10 billion in losses according to Italian food consortiums.

Italy’s internationally renowned Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses (both strong-tasting, hard Parmesan cheeses) will be one of the most affected industries.

In 2018, 10,000 tonnes of Parmesan cheese were exported overseas. With the US’s punitive taxes, already approved by the World Trade Organization, cheese industry leaders estimate consumption in the US will drop by 80 to 90 percent.

That's largely because tariffs of up to 100 percent on the value of food products exported to the US could be slapped on as early as next October.

Industry leaders expect a total of 400,000 wheels of Parmesan cheese, which weigh on average 38kg (84lb) each, will not be sold to the US as a result.

“We’re ready to protest in front of the numerous American military bases in Italy in Montichiari, Ghedi, Longare and Vicenza to protest the WTO’s decision,” Stefano Berni, general manager of the Grana Padano Consortium, said in a statement.

“The Italian cheese crisis would be followed closely by an emergency situation in other Italian agri-food sectors such as wine, citrus fruits, grapes and jams,” Lorenzo Bazzana, manager of Italy’s National Farmers’ Confederation Coldiretti, told online daily Linkiesta.

Bazzana believes the Airbus-Boeing feud is an excuse to hide the real reason for the tariffs: the US food industry’s forgery of Italian food products and its intent to flood the market with them without competition.

In the case of Parmesan, often referred to in Italy as the 'King of Cheeses', the global fake agro-food industry sold 200,000 tonnes of the stuff outside of the EU in 2018, 15 times more than the authentic Italian produce with the “protected designation of origin” label.

“What with US tariffs and Brexit, we must do everything possible to avoid a perfect storm that'll damage the entire Italian agri-food industry,” Massimiliano Giansanti, president of agricultural confederation Confagricoltura, is quoted as saying in business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

“At this point we must ask our government to urgently intervene.”

The US and EU's complicated trade spat

For more than 14 years, Washington and Brussels have accused each other of unfairly subsidising Boeing and Airbus, respectively, in a tit-for-tat dispute.

The WTO ruled in March 2012 that billions of dollars of subsidies to Boeing were illegal and notified the United States to end them.

The EU was also reprimanded by the WTO more recently, leading US President Donald Trump's administration (who have made punitive tariffs something of a signature move) to ask the trade body what the maximum amount of tariffs they could impose on the EU was. 

The EU and the US have been working to set in motion a limited trade pact as part of a truce agreed in July when Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged no new tariffs following those imposed on steel and aluminum.

Member comments

  1. “”We’re ready to protest in front of the numerous American military bases in Italy in Montichiari, Ghedi, Longare and Vicenza to protest the WTO’s decision,” Stefano Berni, general manager of the Grana Padano Consortium, said in a statement.”

    The WTO is a neutral organisation. Stefano needs to protest outside the EU at its unfair tactics and tariffs on trade. Airbus is subsidised because no doubt somebody at the EU has had their pocket lined. They’ll sacrifice the little people in their own interests.

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Antipasto to amaro: What to expect from every step of an Italian dinner

Whether you're going out to dinner in Italy or have been invited to over to a friend or extended family member's home, here's what to expect from an Italian meal.

Antipasto to amaro: What to expect from every step of an Italian dinner

More humble and less fussy than French cuisine, Italy’s cucina povera (literally, ‘kitchen of the poor’) tradition employs minimal ingredients, prioritising fresh local produce over complex techniques.

But while it might not be as elaborate and formal as its Gallic counterpart, an Italian dinner is still traditionally a multi-course affair, often stretching over several leisurely hours and involving various stages.

If you’re invited into an Italian home for lunch or dinner, you’re likely to find it a fairly relaxed occasion that may include all or just some of the courses listed below – though you can expect it to be lengthy and copious.

As in many other countries, it’s polite in Italy to bring a bottle of wine or dessert to dinner in someone’s house; if in doubt, ask what your hosts would like.

Without further ado, here’s what you can expect from a full Italian dinner.


The antipasto (‘before-meal’) is the starter course.

Its remit is pretty broad, and might include anything from bruschetta to salad to a cheese or meat platter. If you’re in someone’s home, you might be served olives or savoury snacks such as taralli.

While you’ve probably heard of the tradition of the pre-dinner aperitivo drink and snack, this is separate from the dinner itself, and usually takes place in bars or cafes rather than in restaurants or homes.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What time do people eat dinner in Italy?

Primo piatto

A primo is a carb-based dish: almost always pasta, though it could also be risotto, gnocchi or polenta.

In line with the cucina povera, which describes the make-do cooking of poverty-stricken rural Italy in decades gone by, this dish serves to fill the diner up before moving on to a smaller (more expensive) protein course.

Because of this, while you might find small amounts of meat or fish in Italian primi in the form of guanciale in your carbonara or minced beef in your ragù sauce, you won’t be served large quantities of meat with your primo.

Polpette, or meatballs, are a separate second course, and you’ll never come across a chicken-based pasta dish in Italy.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why do Italians get so angry if you mess with classic recipes?

Secondo piatto

The secondo is, as its name suggests, your second main dish – usually meat or fish, though most restaurants will offer at least one vegetarian option in the form of something like an aubergine parmigiana.

If you want to round it out, you can order one or more contorni – side plates of salad or vegetables.

Italian restaurants will provide both primo and secondo options, but these days most places won’t expect you to order both, and it’s fine for one person to order a primo and the other a secondo to arrive at the same time.


Once the secondo is over, it’s time for dessert.

The type of dolce you’re offered will likely vary depending on region, but the list commonly includes cantucci biscuits to be dipped in vin santo dessert wine, panna cotta, a crostata tart, and, of course, tiramisù.

If you’ve got a hankering for gelato, you’re probably best off heading out to one of the many gelaterie that populate the piazzas and streets Italian towns, where you’ll have access to a wide range of flavours.

READ ALSO: The must-try foods from every region of Italy


Next comes the caffè, which in Italy is an espresso – definitely not a cappuccino or caffè latte, which are strictly breakfast drinks, though you might get away with asking for a splash of milk and making yours a caffè macchiato.

It might seem unwise to consume caffeine at the end of the evening, but you can always order a caffè decaffeinato (usually shortened to deca), and its effects are at any rate tempered by what follows:


At the very end of the night, you’ll likely be offered a bitter amaro liqueur or some other spirit-based digestivo (some restaurants will bring these for free along with the bill).

This could also be a distilled liquor grappa, or if you’re further south, a sweet limoncello.

Taken straight after or along with your coffee, these after-dinner drinks are known in Italy as an ammazzacaffè – literally, a coffee-killer, for its dampening effect on the caffeine.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of an Italian meal! Now you just have to roll yourself off your chair or sofa and make your way home, where you’ll spend a good portion of the following day digesting your meal.