Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was handed a rather large hunk of Parmesan on Tuesday as an apparent appeal against President Donald Trump's administration putting tariffs on the famed Italian cheese.
In a video clip of the encounter, Alice Martinelli, a reporter with the Italian TV program The Hyenas, is seen approaching Pompeo during his press appearance alongside Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with a sizable wedge in her hand.
"I got you a present. The prime minister knows what I'm talking about," Martinelli told the secretary, speaking in English. "This is Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's what we make best in Italy. It's something our families make with the heart every day."
According to Italian digital outlet Blitz, Conte told Martinelli in Italian: "Let me do it. [I'm] the prime minister. This is not how Italy defends itself."
"Take it to Mr. Trump, please, and tell him that we make it from the heart. We make it from the heart!" Martinelli can be heard saying as she was led away.
Pompeo managed to keep a smile on his face. Conte seemed less amused.
The moment wasn't just a promo for local cheesemongers — the Trump administration has been cleared to place new tariffs on the European Union after a recent World Trade Organization ruling regarding European subsidies to Airbus.
According to the Financial Times, up to $8 billion in tariffs are on the table: "Apart from Italian food, many other delicacies from across the continent — such as French Roquefort and champagne, Irish whiskey and German pork sausages — are also in the line of fire along with manufactured products such as table knives, ceramics, sweaters and suits. Aircraft and helicopters, as well as certain aerospace parts directly related to the Airbus case — are also on the roster."
(The administration on Wednesday went through with their announcement and, despite Martinelli's best efforts, Italian cheese was definitely on the list of products that will now be more expensive for US consumers.)
The Local reported last week that Italy's farmers and dairy producers were considering protesting outside US military bases in the country to express their displeasure with the looming tariffs.
"In 2018, 10,000 tonnes of Parmesan cheese were exported overseas," the Local reported. "With the US’s punitive taxes, already approved by the World Trade Organization, cheese industry leaders estimate consumption in the US will drop by 80 to 90 percent."
The somewhat cheesy appeal was a moment of levity in what could otherwise be an extremely awkward set of meetings for Pompeo. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr met with Italian officials last week to press them to cooperate with his probe into the origins of the Russia investigation in the United States.
Pompeo himself, meanwhile, has also been pulled more deeply into the investigation at the core of the impeachment inquiry against Trump with reports that he was also on the July 26 call with the president of Ukraine that set off the current chain of events.
It is unclear, in the meantime, what will happen to the cheese. As it's likely worth more than $25, it cannot be accepted by Pompeo or Trump under current federal ethics laws.