Wheeling and dealing in underground

When cheese smuggling has become an issue, you know our black markets have gone noir indeed

Carolyn Grant

“Psst! Hey Mister! Wanna buy some cheese? I got it right here.”

Sounds like something from an organized crime movie, doesn’t it? Maybe directed by Martin Scorsese.

Well, except for the cheese part.

But it’s true. CBC News is reporting that police are probing a large cheese smuggling ring — already dubbed the Mozzarella Mafia — in Ontario’s Niagara region. And not only that, but several police officers from the Niagara Regional Force are under investigation for their involvement in the Bocconcini Banditry.

Cheese, you say? Who would want mass quantities of Queso Blanco? Reams of Ricotta? Stores of Scamorza? Bundles of Brie? Masses of Monterey Jack? Okay, I’ll stop now, but I could go on all day — Google helpfully supplied me with a long list of cheeses.

But cheese smuggling? Don’t smugglers generally deal in more illicit substances such as arms or drugs or cigarettes? They do indeed. But they also deal in cheese.

Apparently cheese can be purchased in the United States for about one third the price of Canadian cheese. Obviously, we must have superior cows, but nonetheless, with price discrepancies like that, who can blame a Smoked Gouda smuggler for being seduced by the  heady thought of Pecorino profits, illicit though they may be?

But who is the buyer? Does the average household need a case of purloined Provolone? No. But do you know who does? Pizzerias.

That’s right. Think of the cheese on an average 3,000 plus calorie pizza. That’s a whole lot of chedda, as they say. In fact, some pizzerias go through more than $100,000 worth of cheese in a year.

Smugglers are finding a ready market among the more morally  — shall we say ‘supple’ — of the pizza industry. In face if they are successful in getting a car full of cheese across the border, they can realize a profit of $1000 to $2000 per trip.

Now, I’m not saying all pizzerias  in the Niagara region are guilty of bending the rules regarding Romano, not at all.

In fact as one pizzeria owner, Brandon Elms, told CBC News, “We get all our stuff legit.”

Seriously, Scorsese, you’ve got to look at this as a movie possibility.

But other pizzeria owners say that the discrepancy in prices has created an underground economy, Cheddar change, if you will, where pizzeria owners, lured by the lust for the Limberger, will risk the potential Penamellera penalties and make a grab for the Gruyere.

Numerous cases of contraband Camembert have been seized at the border, but many more are likely getting through undetected, making their way into pizza ovens across the province. And who’s to say it’s not happening across the country as well?

It could be quite prolific, this Toscanello trade. It could be networked like organized crime, headed up by one shadowy figure. Let’s call him The Big Cheese. And across the country his Munster minions — we’ll call them the Curds — carry out his nefarious deeds, slipping Stilton into the country and onto the pizzas of unsuspecting Canadians.

We are all complicit in this giant wedge of Weichkaese. Because now we know. We can no longer bury our heads in the Havarti and pretend we don’t know that last slice of pizza didn’t contain a misuse of Mozzarella.

The Big Cheese and his Curds are out there, robbing our pizza of its innocence. What’s next? Poutine? Oh, the horror!

Martin, baby, call me.