As Pompeo drove up to the presidential palace, he was greeted by members of Italy's largest agricultural union Coldiretti who held up banners saying “Don't kill Italian food” and “Mr Pompeo, we are friends”.
They brandished bottles of olive oil, Parma ham and other Italian specialities under a banner reading “A present for Trump”.
Journalist Alice Martinelli, from Mediaset television programm “Le Iene” (The Hyenas), interrupted a photo call with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte by offering him a block of Parmesan cheese.
“I have a present. The prime minister knows what I'm talking about,” she said. “It is something made best in Italy, made from the heart, so we hope you can help us in taking it to Mr Trump please.”
Pompeo smiled throughout although he appeared surprised and handed the package to a tense-looking Conte. Martinelli was led out by two security men and the cheese too was quickly removed.
Watch Pompeo’s eyes follow the cheese out of shot. I too would be furious to have parmigiano snatched away from me https://t.co/NhNnX74g49
— Jessica Phelan (@JessicaLPhelan) October 1, 2019
Italy's internationally renowned Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses (both strong-tasting, hard Parmesan cheeses) will be among the most affected industries.
In 2018, 10,000 tonnes of Parmesan cheese were exported overseas. With the US's punitive taxes, already reportedly approved by the World Trade Organization, cheese industry leaders estimate consumption in the US will drop by 80 to 90 percent.
Tariffs of up to 100 percent on the value of food products exported to the US could be slapped on as early as next October.
The threatened tariffs are in response to subsidies received by aircraft maker Airbus and target a host of European products including helicopters and aircraft parts, as well as wine, Pecorino cheese, olives and olive oil, seafood, and fruit.
Italian exporters and producers would be hit hard as the US is the country's third-biggest trading partner after Germany and France.
Italian Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova said: “The Americans import $4.5 billion worth of Italian food products, or 10 percent of our total exports.”
She told La Stampa newspaper that a hike in tariffs would “seriously endanger jobs, companies and families” across the country, adding that Parmesan and olive oil exports brought in more than $1 billion.