Last month, Italian police broke up a crime ring that had recently absconded with $85,000 worth of one of the country’s most valuable forms of currency — Parmesan cheese.
Had the dairy farmers known they were going to be targeted, they likely would have opted to protect their prized Parmesan by locking it up because, in Italy at least, there’s a bank for that.
In a tradition that dates to the Middle Ages, the Credito Emiliano bank in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region awards small-business loans to farmers in exchange for wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano and charges between 3% to 5% interest depending on the quality of the cheese.
The cheese — which is stored in climate-controlled warehouses — as a collateral program is essential for farmers because Parmesan is matured for 18, 24, 30 or 36 months (the longer it ages, the more valuable it is) so there can be a big time gap between production and payment.
“This mechanism is our lifeblood,” cheese producer Giuseppe Montanari told Bloomberg News. “It’s a great way to finance our expenses at convenient rates, and the bank doesn’t risk much because they can always sell the cheese.”
It’d be grate if our local banks started accepting cheese, but until then, Credito Emiliano stands alone.