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Italian Bank Takes Cheese As Collateral For Cheese Producer
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Story By: Larry Stine

 

 

 
 
 
   
   
  Originally Published on: 8/25/2013

Producers of Italy's famed parmesan cheese have been storing their product in bank vaults. It's part of a banking program that accepts the expensive cheese as collateral for loans. Isa Soares explains. Here at Credem Bank, they're not taking any risks, because inside, under lock and key, are some of Italy's most solid assets. "Every year, we store 430,000 wheels of parmesan cheese at a total value of $190-million euros," says Alfredo Germinia, Credem Bank Vice President. These precious walls of cheese belong to the bank, for now, at least. They're part of a cash-for-cheese loan that started 50 years ago with Credem Bank, but the practice actually dates back to the Medici era around the 15th century. "More than 20 parmigiano reggiano producers and wholesales keep their chees in these bank vaults," says CNN's Isa Soares. "In return, they receive a cheap loan. For the bank, it's almost risk-free. If the producer defaults on its debts, the bank holds on to the cheese and sells it on. And you'll be surprised to know this asset holds on to its value." This maturing interest, which is valued at 500 eruos per wheel, retail price, stays here for two years. In that time, the bank charges between 3-to-5-percent interest, and a fee for making sure the cheese matures properly in their air-conditioned, humidified vault. It's not only a case of staring at the cheese, though, periodically, experts are hired in to ensure they are maturing well. They hammer it and savor certain batches. "We want to taste it," says Cristian Bertolini, Expert Taster with Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano. "That is very important because we have to eat the cheese at the end of the process. Oh, I'm sorry, I just ate it (laughs)." For the cheese producers, like the Caretti family, who have cattle to feed and staff to pay, this precious liquid is hard currency. "We still use the bank to anticipate money of the cheese," says Davide Caretti, Parmigiano Reggiano producer. "So we must keep the cheese inside the vault until we pay the bank." The two years it takes the cheese to mature, aloows them to keep on producing. Every day they make 32 wheels of parmesan. That's almost 12,000 wheels a year. "It is not hard work, it's a strong passion for me and for us," says Caretti. A passion as strong as the cheese itself, backed by a bank that takes a mature attitude to lending.
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