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Italy Rescues Traditional Cheese, as Nations Bailout Banks and Companies

As governments around the world bail out banks and companies, Italy is rescuing an industry fundamental to its grastronomic identity: parmigiano cheese.

The cheese which is grated and sprinkled on spaghetti, fetttuccine and other pastas is produced on several hundred farms around the northern city of Parma.

The sun had not yet risen at one farm in the countryside outside Parma, but frantic activity was already underway - the start of a daily process that will yield italy's king of cheeses: parmigiano reggiano.

The work of milking the cows takes place 365 days a year. For about two hours, both early in the morning and in the afternoon, fresh milk is collected.

The precious liquid is the main ingredient of a product that is recognized worldwide as an Italian tradition.

"In the midst of all my sacrifices, parmiggiano has rewarded me in that I can present myself anywhere in the world," said Robert Peveri, a local cheese maker.

Inside warehouses and farms in this region, the cheese is stored in rounds or wheels of about 35 kilograms each. It is aged for a minimum of 12 months, to give the cheese its special flavor and taste, although aging can last as long as 18, 24 or even 36 months.

But producers facing financial difficulties say their industry is struggling. Amid the global financial crisis, sales in Italy of parmiggiano reggiano and its cheaper equivalent, grana padano, are down, and prices producers fetch have declined.

To make matters worse, Peveri says imitations of the distinctive Italian cheese are being sold at knockdown prices. "Consumers should be very careful," he said. "And check that what they are purchasing has the parmiggiano reggiano quality trademark."

The italian government has come up with a plan to give the struggling industry a boost.

"We have made available 50 million euros to purchase 200,000 wheels of cheese and these will then be given to poor people," said Luca Zaia, the agriculture minister.

Producers have welcomed the move, as have charitable organizations that will distribute the cheese to those less fortunate. They say an Italian tradition that dates back eight centuries must be safeguarded at all cost.