Italy cheesemaker dies, crushed by falling wheels of cheese

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ROME — The owner of a cheese factory in northern Italy has died after being crushed when thousands of his cheese wheels fell on him. 

74-year-old Giacomo Chiapparini, a local producer of Grana Padano — a parmesan-style hard cheese that is popular in Italy — was in his warehouse near the city of Bergamo on Sunday evening tending to some 15,000 cheese wheels that were aging.

All of a sudden, a 30-feet high shelf holding the wheels, which weigh about 20kg (44lbs) each, gave way. This created a domino effect that sent the massive wheels flying and ultimately burying their maker. 

Bortolo Ghislotti, a friend and neighbor of the victim, told NBC News that Chiapparini and his son Tiziano, 50, went to the warehouse after a machine that cleans the cheese wheels from the mold sent an alarm signal. 

“These machines clean and rotate the wheels, so when they find them even slightly out of place, they send a warning,” Ghislotti said. “It’s a common problem. So Giacomo and his son went there to adjust the wheels.” 

Italian farmer Giacomo Chiapparini.
Italian farmer Giacomo Chiapparini.IOS / Zuma Press

Ghislotti said that after they fixed the problem, the son left the warehouse while his father re-started the machine. Seconds later, everything fell on him. 

“Tiziano told me he heard a massive noise, he turned around and saw his father buried under thousands of cheese wheels. He knows that if he got out seconds later, he would be dead too.”

The fire brigade were called, and arrived within minutes. But there was little they could do to save Chiapparini. 

“When we got there, the whole warehouse was full of cheese wheels on top of one another,” said Daniele Retto, a spokesperson at the local fire brigade department. “We had to call the unit that specializes in the search and rescue of people under the rubble, especially after an earthquake. They spent hours moving the wheels by hand, one by one, and found his body only in the morning.”  

Ghislotti, who is also the president of the local farming district, called it an inexplicable tragedy. 

“Something like this has never happened, even during the earthquake in Emilia Romagna in 2012. Thousands of wheels fell back then due to the tremors but nobody got killed.”

Authorities will now have to establish what caused the shelf to collapse, and whether Chiapparini was crushed to death, or died due to asphyxiation.

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