A shocking cheese-based incident unfolded in Northern Italy this weekend when a shelf collapsed in the warehouse of Italian Grana Padano producer Giacomo Chiapparini. The fall triggered a fatal cascade of 15,000 to 25,000 wheels of cheese that rained down on the 74-year-old factory owner and crushed him under their massive weight.
According to Bortolo Ghislotti, a friend and neighbor of the victim, Chiapparini and his 50-year-old son had headed to the facility near the town of Bergamo on Sunday evening after a piece of machinery that cleans mold off the aging wheels sent an alarm signal. (Ghislotti, president of the local farming district, explained that the machines rotate the wheels and often issue alerts if any are out of place.)
Once they fixed the issue, Chiapparini went to restart the machine. His son, who had exited the warehouse, heard a “massive noise” behind him, Ghislotti told NBC. When he turned around, he saw that one of the ceiling-high cheese shelves had collapsed, consequently knocking down all the others, and burying his father under thousands of 40 kilogram (nearly 90 pounds) rounds of hard Grana Padano.
A spokesperson for the local fire brigade told NBC that “the whole warehouse was full of cheese wheels” by the time they arrived, minutes after the deluge. To locate Chiapparini, they called in their search-and-rescue unit, which typically searches rubble after an earthquake. Its members “spent hours moving the wheels by hand, one by one” and reportedly found Chiapparini’s body 12 hours later.
The collapse is estimated to have caused $7.6 million worth of damage. Now, according to one Italian news outlet cited by the New York Post, Chiapparini’s family is rushing to move the wheels to neighboring businesses’ refrigerated warehouses before they go bad. And they are left to grieve the loss of a committed and reportedly very “generous” cheese-maker. According to Ghislotti, “The family, his wife Angela and two children, cannot understand what happened.”