Giovanni “John” Occhiuto unloaded his maiden wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano by hand, right off the ship at the Port of Montreal, more than 50 years ago. Those first five wheels satisfied demand in 1963 — but in 2020, it took 2,000. As the owner of Montreal’s Berchicci, importer and distributor of specialty Italian products, Occhiuto has witnessed Canada’s increasing appetite for the ancient cheese.
“It evolved over time. When we first started, it was just us Italians that would eat the product,” says Occhiuto. “Back then, you could only buy it in cheese boutiques in Montreal, Toronto. But if you went out of the Italian circle there, it wouldn’t be available.”
Pandemic-related restaurant closures threatened to put a serious dent in cheese sales. But consumers more than made up for the lack of food service orders. According to data from the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium in Italy, 2020 was a banner year: 3.94 million wheels (roughly 160,000 tonnes) were produced — the most in the cheese’s 900-year history. Canadians had an especially impressive hunger for Parmigiano-Reggiano. Of the G8 countries, Canada showed the biggest growth in imports at an increase of 36.8 per cent.
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