Sikhs defend and promote Parmesan cheese the culture that is Italy

Many of Italy’s 25,000-strong Sikh community originate from India’s Punjab region but have found their calling producing Parmesan and prosciutto ham in Lombardy and Emilia Romagna.  Most are employed as dairy hands but some, such as Singh, are taking over key roles in preparing the sharply flavoured hard cheese grated onto pasta dishes and shaved into salads the world over. “I looked for any work when I first arrived, even as a dishwasher. I was ready to do anything, but I like being a cheesemaker a lot,” said the 34-year-old father of two.

…There aren’t Italians in the industry any more. Making Parmesan means long hours: you have to work weekends, holidays, every day of the year. Italians have money and the young won’t do the job any more,” he said. “I’ve stayed because I’m passionate about it, you have to be,” said the 71-year-old as he supervised Singh stir vat after vat of slowly heated cow’s milk, breaking up the curds with a huge, unwieldy whisk.

“We’re really lucky to have found foreigners to milk our cows”.

At the dairy in nearby Novellara, which specialises in producing milk for making Parmesan, half the labourers are Sikhs, prized as methodical, hard workers who are eager to fill the posts that open as Italians desert the industry. By Italian standards, the money is very good too, with Sikh cheesemakers earning up to 2,000 euros (USD 2,800) a month.

“Most of our workers are Indian,” said farmer Stefano Gazzini. “They are more dedicated to their work. They seem to have integrated well into the community, and even have their own temple.”

The story is here and for the pointer I thank Kurt Schuler.

Addendum: Here is an NYT version of the story as well.

Comments

I'd be curious to know how the Sikhs managed to get over the morass of restrictive EU work visas? I doubt Sikhs count as religious, economic or political asylees. Sikhs are not a persecuted section of modern India.

And I find it hard to believe that the italian employers could demonstrate to the intractable immigration bodies that the Sikhs bring a specialized skill that isn't locally available.

They were persecuted during the ’84 riots. That is when there was a surge in Sikh out migration from India.

So from the story it is clear that (a) some modern machinery would greatly improve labor productivity in Italian parmesan cheese factories, and (b) the main problem getting native labor is the low wages (compared to effort demanded) the antiquated factories are prepared to pay.

It's not in the story, but the other thing going on here is that there simply aren't any young Italians available to learn cheesemaking, because Italian fertility is now about 1.4 (child/woman) and was down around 1.3 about a decade ago.

The Italians (and the rest of us cheese-lovers) are lucky that they can get some Sikhs to make cheese under primitive conditions.

If only you could convince an Italian to work that hard at any price.

Rahul:" I find it hard to believe that the Italian employers could demonstrate to the intractable immigration bodies that the Sikhs bring a specialized skill that isn’t locally available." But I thought the article says Italians are not willing to do the work the Sikhs are willing to do. Presumably the only people who have the skills and are willing to work in the industry are Sikhs.
If, as Zorkmid claims, using modern machinery is profitable how come it is not being used? Surely, the guys managing the units respond to incentives and find it more efficient to use labour intensive processes , " under primitive conditions". And is it not a tenet of libertarianism that people know best how to act in their own interest? How then can we claim that we know better than the owners of the dairies how best to produce cheese?
Finally, the farmer Gazzini says that the Indian workers "seem to have integrated well into the community, and even have their own temple.” I do not see the relevance of the community having its own temple and integration with the local community.

When the build their own temple, they commit to staying long term.

I didn't say using modern machinery would be more profitable, after cost-of-capital, than employing Sikhs at low wages.

This is a fascinating story that touches on important points for MR readers: economies of scale, immigration and of course food. But without being too partisan, I think Elisabetta Povoledo covered it in more depth for the NYT in September (Sept. 7th to be precise).

I've also heard that Valtellina's famous bresaola (air-cured beef) was being made using imported cattle recently, but I don't have a source for that. That would be more evidence of the influence of trade and migration on 'traditional' foods.

So how does that affect the median wage in Italy? Don't those immigrants depress it, even as they support the standard of living of incumbent Italians?

Haha, culture. Get it?

Rahul, they could be ex-pat Brits, whose parents or grandparents came to Britain in the 1960s.

Do brits get work freedom previlages that the other EU members have?

Wonder, if these cheeses are made with raw milk. Does anyone know?
cheers

They were persecuted during the '84 riots. That is when there was a surge in Sikh out migration from India.

Hats off to these guys to reach yet another country and find a place for themselves to succeed. The punjabi entrepreneurial spirit never seems to fail these guys.

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