ITALY: Cheesy Scandal

The Mafia, for once, was not involved. The masterminds who pulled off Italy's ripest heist of the year are just greedy cheese merchants who smelled a good thing. When the Italian government last spring auctioned off 19,000 tons of Parmesan cheese that it had bought to support falling prices, a few wholesalers snapped up practically the whole lot—in effect, cornering the market. Ever since, the speculators have released their hoard of the golden, crumbly protein-rich cheese only when supplies were scarce.

As a result, retail prices of Parmesan in many stores have nearly doubled, from $2.70 a pound in midsummer to...