Cheese is big business. According to Dairy Industries International, the global cheese sales surpassed $114.1 billion in 2019, and have followed a steady upward revenue pattern year over year. As it turns out, the cheese business is big enough that black market sales of it are also quite lucrative. This may explain why a reported 4% of all cheese produced in any given year ends up stolen, which makes this delicious dairy product the most commonly stolen food in the world.
According to data reported by The Huffington Post, gathered from 1,187 retailers representing more than 250,000 retail outlets across 43 countries, cheese trumps fresh meat, chocolate, alcohol, seafood, and infant formula, all of which made the most-stolen list. (Related: Grocery Shortages To Expect in 2021, According to Experts.)
And it isn't just random shoplifters who steal cheese for their own consumption. Most of the 4% figure is comprised of larger-scale black market operations, where the goods end up being re-sold to shops and restaurants.
Notable incidents of cheese theft include a two-year operation running from 2014 until 2016, in which thieves operating in Italy's Province of Reggio Emilia stole an estimated $7 million-worth of Parmesan cheese, according to CBS News. Individual wheels of the cheese often sell for more than $500 and using that figure as a benchmark points to some 14,000 wheels pilfered in total, harming mostly small-scale artisanal makers in the region that's home to the Parmigiano-Reggiano trademark.
However, large-scale producers are targets of cheese theft, too. In 2019, two California men were arrested for stealing some $50,000-worth of mozzarella cheese over the course of a smaller two-year operation, according to KIRO 7. The goods were stolen from Leprino Foods, a global producer that makes some $3 billion-worth of mozzarella annually.
Overall, the United States is the world's largest market for cheese, with America accounting for some $25.9 billion of legally sold cheese annually as of 2019, according to Dairy Industries International. But if looking at consumption per capita, the Czech Republic is surprisingly the biggest consumer of cheese, with the average Czech citizen eating about 140 pounds of cheese annually.