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The 6 Most Scandalous Cheese Crimes in American History

Cheese is the most stolen food in the world. It accounts for roughly 4% of all thefted foods worldwide. Millions of dollars worth of cheese have been stolen in Wisconsin, Italy, France, and England just in the last few years. Cheese heists throughout history have involved everything from walking out of a store with a wedge in one’s pocket to organized cheese smuggling rings. Even the mafia has used cheese as an offer not to be refused, and cheese truck drivers have been found bound and gagged for their lactose-laden loot.

Here is a snapshot of absurd curd crimes throughout the last century of American history.

Parish Hill Cave and wheels

Parish Hill Cave and wheels. Photo Credit: Daniel Clapp

The Case of the Cheese Bandits

In 1928, the infamous “Cheese Bandits” were busted in Brooklyn after confessing to 25 robberies in a two-month period. They earned this title not because they stole cheese, but because they frequently ate cheese while robbing delis. For all their thieving and cheese eating, the three Cheese Bandits were eventually caught with a bail set at $100,000. In today’s dollars, that amounts to $1.5 million. That’s some valuable charcuterie.

The Big Cheese

During the Prohibition era of the 1920s to early 1930s, Al Capone reigned as a fearsome mobster and “businessman.” One of his many tactics was to pressure pizzerias into buying cheese from farms he owned in Wisconsin. It is alleged that if a pizzeria denied his offer, he’d have it set ablaze. There’s also a rumor that his cheesy competition went up in flames to bolster demand for Capone’s dairy products.

An Honest Cheese Thief

In 1946, two packages of cheese were found in a mailbox with a letter attached, addressed to the police chief. The sender was a man who’d been involved in the theft of a substantial amount of cheese from a truck a few weeks prior. The thief returned the leftover cheese he didn’t use in addition to the estimated value of the cheese he already ate. If only every thief was that honest!

cheese robber

The Nose Goes Where the Mold Grows

The New York Times reported two cases, one in 1945 and the other in 1966, of cheese thievery being busted by cops following their dutiful sense of smell. The 1945 case involved the recovery of $600-worth ($8,000 today) of stolen Italian-style cheese and olive oil inside a stolen car. Police found the four cheese-nappers hiding under their beds in a house near the odorous evidence. In the 1966 case, several sniffing sheriffs found $4,000-worth (over $30,000 today) of stolen provolone less than two blocks from their police station.

A Car Chase for Cheese

In 1971, $100-worth of cheese and other dairy products were stolen from a grocery store, after which a thrilling car chase and shootout ensued. In true Jason Bourne style, the criminals sped away in a stolen car, hitting another car and driving on the sidewalk in the process. Shots were fired from both the thieves and the police, who hijacked a cab in pursuit. The risk-taking dairy delinquents managed to get away with their lives–and the loot.

The Smuggling Canadians

In more recent news, the Canadian Cheese-Smuggling Ring was busted in 2012 after nearly a year of sneaking American-made cheese across its northern border into Canada, where cheese is much more expensive. The conspiracy had involved a former Canadian police officer and two civilians, who saw an opportunity to make some serious cheddar in this border-crossing scheme.

Sam Jones

Sam Jones is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Agriculture, Food, and Environment at Tufts University. She has worked on organic vegetable farms in France, Scotland, and Washington as well as on a chicken and pig farm in Colorado. She is passionate about telling farmers' stories and exploring the varied agricultural methods that go into making delicious cheese around the world.

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