With the EU's backing, Italy goes after those who make ersatz Parma prosciutto, Bufala Mozzarella and other food products.
REGGIO-EMILIA, ITALY -- Inspector Giorgio Capovani laid out his array of cheese impostors.
A wedge of "Parmesansan" made in Lithuania, a container of "Parmazano Fiorentino" produced in Britain and labeled "dairy free," a chunk of German "Parmezano" sold in Mexico.
The motley assortment of long-expired cheese products he keeps in a refrigerator is proof that rip-offs know no borders nor limits to the imagination. And it's not just cheese. Hams too can be suspect. And basil. And vinegar.
Capovani belongs to a growing breed of food detectives sought out by producers of Italian foods that have earned prestigious European Union protection.
"A museum of a hundred fakes," is the way Capovani describes his collection of counterfeit cheeses. "We have a network of salesman informants who keep a sharp eye on the competition," he said.
In the Wild West of gastronomical rip-offs, men like Capovani act like sheriffs. They are sworn judicial officers who can demand admission to premises, examine documentation and confiscate products at wholesalers' warehouses or supermarket aisles.
"We can even carry firearms, although we don't," said another food detective, Domenico D'Aniello.
European Union protection, indicated by the designations DOP and IGP, has been granted to some of Italy's best-known products, including Bufala Mozzarella, Parma prosciutto, balsamic vinegar from Modena, San Marzano tomatoes, and Gorgonzola cheese.