Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why American Pizza tastes better...

I know that's a generalization, and of course it may not always be true. But that has been my experience when visiting my relatives in New Jersey over the past almost 40 years.

The pizza seems richer, more flavourful, definitely cheesier! I never understood or thought about why until now, and I have theory.

This week the CBC ran a story where members of the Niagara Regional Police Service will be charged for smuggling large amounts of mozzarella brick cheese across the US-Canada border.

Cheese smuggling!! Why would anyone smuggle cheese across the "NAFTA free-trade border" between two of the largest trading nations on Earth? Good question.

I have written about this before (here), Canadians pay a premium for dairy products because of a monopoly granted to dairy farmers in Canada, which is outside of the NAFTA agreement. This distortion in the dairy market occurs because the federal government allows farmers to collude on the price of raw milk by agreeing to limit production to allotted quotas. The government also creates a tariff wall that effectively prevents cheaper foreign dairy products from competing in the Canadian market. If milk is pricey, cheese will be too. What does this have to do with pizza?

Apparently after removing labour costs, 80% of the price of Canadian pizza is due to the mozzarella cheese. Who knew? Of course getting cheaper cheese allows the local pizza shop to either use more cheese or make more profit, or both. That is my theory, that is why those New Jersey pizzas are so much cheesier. Unlike their Canadian counterparts, Americans can be generous with their cheese without hurting their bottom line.  This story from Niagara Falls Ontario explains some of the cost realities involved. A pizza shop in Ohio spends $90 on cheese every day, a similar shop in Niagara Falls Ontario spends $290 for the same type, quality and roughly the same amount of cheese. Starting to see why there is a cheese smuggling racket?

Again the unintended consequences of government intervention in an economic area, has spawned a black market criminal class of cheese smugglers, the "mozzarella mafia." According to the CBC, a cheese smuggler can earn up to $2000 per shipment, so it's not as lucrative as drug smuggling, but neither are the penalties as onerous. This story has received wide publicity in the US and Canada, here is a report from NPR in the US.

When will things change? Only when Canadians become cheesed-off enough with how they are treated by their various governments.

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