The Italian Cheese Bank

Credito Emiliano is an Italian bank founded in 1910 with approximately 37 Billion EUR under asset. Some of those assets happen to be wheels of cheese from local farmers. From The New York Times, who first reported about this bank in 2009:

The bank considered taking prosciutto, another of the region’s specialties, and olive oil as collateral but such products were harder to store and brand, Mr. Bizzarri said. “It’s easier to steal or replace them,” he said.

Emilia-Romagna is the only area in the world legally allowed to use the parmigiano-reggiano name for the hard, dry, skim milk cheese that was first made in the region around 1200. Sales of parmesan totaled €1.54 billion in 2008, 25 percent from exports, according to the producers’ association.

Once the bank accepts cheese as collateral it oversees the aging process, which includes turning the wheels several times a week and checking periodically for cheeses that have gone soft. As a master tester taps each cheese with a small metal hammer, Mr. Bizzarri listens for hollow sounds that would indicate the wheel is a “dud” and result in its disposal.

Most wheels pass the test, said Mr. Bizzarri, who sold financial products and managed bank branches before taking over the cheese unit. After a year they are branded with the parmigiano-reggiano logo and serial numbers and tags.

When loans are not repaid, Credito Emiliano sells the cheese to recover its investment, returning any difference to the producer. This makes the operation low risk for the bank, Mr. Bizzarri said, adding that few producers defaulted.

I don’t think there’s any food items in the U.S. that would be viewed in the same way — possibly wine? — but certainly in Spain — jamon iberico, for example — this could be possible.

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