Contraband cheese sold in Windsor, pizzeria says

At least one Windsor pizza maker says he's been approached by someone selling contraband cheese he thinks comes from the United States.
Pizzeria owner Bob Abumeeiz says cheese accounts for half his monthly budget.

At least one Windsor, Ont., pizza maker says he’s been approached by someone selling contraband cheese across the city.

"We’ve been approached on several occasions from people on the street. They know how much cheese costs these days and there’s a substantial savings," Said Bob Abumeeiz, who owns Arcata Pizzeria.

Abumeeiz said the latest sales pitch came six months ago. Abumeeiz suspects the cheese he has been offered comes from the United States, where it costs much less.

Abumeeiz buys $15,000 worth of cheese each month and said cheese is priced at least 30 per cent cheaper in the U.S. Sometimes cheese costs half as much in the States.

CBC News learned earlier this week that members of the Niagara Regional Police Service were allegedly smuggling cheese across the border there and selling it to pizzerias in Niagara Region. 

'Cheese is white gold in the restaurant business.'— Bob Abumeeiz, pizzeria owner

"Cheese is the white gold in the restaurant business. Cheese is 50 per cent of the taste on a pizza," Abumeeiz said. "The price is rising every year two or three per cent"

Abumeeiz said that in the 16 years he’s been in the business, the price of cheese has risen 75 per cent. Cheese accounts for half his monthly expenses. He admitted it's tempting to buy the cheaper cheese and can understand why the black market for cheese exists.

"There’s a market for it. The small guys care about the price," he said.

Abumeeiz only buys local from the Galati Cheese Company, which has started a campaign to promote his cheese in Windsor.

Joe Galati has leased to billboards and pizzerias that use his cheese are stamping their boxes with the saying, "Our pizzas are made with Galati."

"Everybody says they're bringing across [cheese]. I don’t know myself. But everybody says it," Galati said of U.S. cheese.

Galati and Abumeeiz both said Canadian cheese is of higher quality. Galati, for example, makes his cheese from only 100 per cent milk — all of it locally produced.

According to the Canada Border Service Agency, a traveller can bring back, duty free, $20 or 20 kg per type of dairy product. For example, $20 worth of milk and $20 worth of cheese is within the exemption limit. However, a traveller could not bring in 20 kg or $20.00 worth of different cheeses, such as 20 kg or $20 each of cheddar and of mozzarella.

Charges under the Customs Act may include smuggling, attempt to smuggle, duty evasion, false statements, and disposing of non-duty paid goods or permit violations under the Export Import Permits Act for commercial quantities without a permit. Civil penalties could be the value of the goods plus two times the duty, which is 245.5% of the value of the goods.