Author Topic: Italy’s Trash Crisis Taints Reputation of a Prized Cheese, NYTimes  (Read 1459 times)

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Offline mmarston

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Italy’s Trash Crisis Taints Reputation of a Prized Cheese
By IAN FISHER and DANIELE PINTO

ROME — Italians often minimize what afflicts them with this philosophy: Without the bad, no one would appreciate the good.

The question now on the table, almost literally, is whether their passion for food — and the money it makes — will finally force action against the lawlessness that is hurting the name of one of Italy’s most revered delicacies: mozzarella made with buffalo milk.

In the last few months, sales of buffalo mozzarella have dropped 40 percent, the product’s trade association says. The problem makes for a near-perfect morality play about Italy: For years, the nation’s paralyzed political class has done little to halt huge-scale illegal dumping of trash, some of it toxic, around Naples. That area happens to produce some of the best mozzarella.

A new trash crisis peaked yet again, and last week fears that food might be contaminated seemed confirmed when health officials announced elevated levels of the carcinogen dioxin in samples of buffalo mozzarella. Last weekend, South Korea banned imports of the cheese, and Italy began scrambling to avoid deep damage to one of its most emblematic products.

“It is a usual sad Italian story,” said Silvio Ursini, 46, who two years ago started Obiká, a restaurant here that specializes in quality buffalo mozzarella.

On Tuesday, Mr. Ursini, along with farmers, producers and government officials, went on an offensive to persuade more countries not to ban sales.

While the exact cause of the contamination has not yet been established, they said the producers with elevated levels of dioxin in their milk were few and that none belonged to the consortium that receives the Protected Designation of Origin quality seal from the European Union. The protected region, they noted, is big, and much of it is far from illegal trash.

“It really is a problem of criminals making a counterfeit product from God-knows-what,” said Mr. Ursini, who expects to open a branch in New York soon. “Mozzarella-wise, we’re in good shape. I just hope the whole thing doesn’t become a panic.”

Much is at stake: In a business that stretches back nearly to antiquity — invading barbarians are believed to have brought the first buffalo from Asia as early as the sixth century — some 30,000 tons of the high-quality protected cheese are produced each year, representing nearly half a billion dollars in sales.

While some buffalo mozzarella is exported to Europe and elsewhere, notably Russia and Japan, Italians eat most of it. They are now eating much less.

Alessandro Cervini, owner of Zazá, an organic takeout pizza place here, said he stopped serving buffalo mozzarella on pizza in January, even though he buys only from top-quality makers.

“Even if we have a certificate, people won’t eat it,” he said. Mozzarella does not have to be made with buffalo milk, and he now uses only cheese made from cows, the type melted on most pizza anyway.

To send a message of concern, Italian health officials are meeting Wednesday to discuss the scale of any contamination and how to end it. Harder to fix is the larger problem: for decades the Camorra, the Naples organized crime group, has made a profitable business illegally dumping trash, and no one has stopped it.

For now, there are two investigations running. One concerns the larger problem of crime and why Naples periodically floods over with its own refuse. The other focuses on complicity between shady mozzarella producers and local officials who reportedly knew about the contamination.

Still there is hope that this time something may be done, because the damaging is spreading.

“Now it is visible,” Mr. Cervini said of the effects of allowing organized crime to keep dumping. “It’s like when the Mafia dumps bodies but you don’t know why. Now you see it.”
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Offline David

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Re: Italy’s Trash Crisis Taints Reputation of a Prized Cheese, NYTimes
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2008, 07:26:51 PM »
I love Italy and in particular Naples.I'm about half way through reading Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano,and it is both sad and sickening.How the average Neapolitan can wake up with a smile on their face is beyond me.Apparently tourism has rapidly declined due to the recent build up of garbage and now the prospect of food contamination on the horizon.As if the reputaion of violent street crime wasn't enough,now they have this to deal with.How bad do things have to get before they get better?
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Offline pizza concerto

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Re: Italy’s Trash Crisis Taints Reputation of a Prized Cheese, NYTimes
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2008, 09:27:31 PM »
Hey David,

I'm also a huge fan of Naples...when I visited I stayed at the Excelsior Hotel, where ironically, Tony Soprano (Gandolfini) stayed when they filmed in Naples.  The Camorra has a death grip on that city... we can only hope that the buffala industry will be able to ride the storm of consumer cautiousness, and get back on track.  At least these issues are finally being brought to light, and perhaps the next generation of Neapolitans will rise up...
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Offline Essen1

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Re: Italy’s Trash Crisis Taints Reputation of a Prized Cheese, NYTimes
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2008, 10:43:12 PM »
I read in the German newsmagazine "Der Spiegel" today that the Naples police is investigating, if the Mafia has their hands in it, because they do business with illegal garbage dumps. The police believes that the Mafia might have contaminated the Buffaloes' feed/fodder.

Japan has since also banned the import of the cheese.

Reuters International: http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSL26591058

Mike
« Last Edit: March 26, 2008, 10:47:36 PM by Essen1 »
Mike

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Offline David

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Re: Italy’s Trash Crisis Taints Reputation of a Prized Cheese, NYTimes
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2008, 08:45:13 AM »
we can only hope that the buffala industry will be able to ride the storm of consumer cautiousness, and get back on track. 

I'm sure this will have a significant impact on the few artisan pizzerias here that promote the use of buffala (some exclusively) even though at the moment it is claimed that the main area with contaminated milk are non DOP producers.It will be hard to convince consumers.Invariably IMO these types of issues usually are understated due to the fears of the Industry.Britain has had a number of problems with their Beef industry during my life time and has managed to survive.It would not surprise me in the least if we saw countries such as China and India capitalize on this if they can.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2008, 08:47:13 AM by David »
If you're looking for a date... go to the Supermarket.If you're looking for a wife....go to the Farmers market