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August 22, 2009

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Parmesan makers say cheese to loan collaterals

ALL that is golden in bank Credito Emiliano's temperature-controlled vault is not precious metal, but something equally prized in Italy: aging Parmesan cheese.

Row upon row of 39-kilogram wheels of straw-colored Parmesan cheese, stacked some 10 meters high at a secure warehouse, age for as many as two years under the care of bank employees trained in the centuries-old art of Parmesan making.

The program allows Parmesan producers to pump cash into their business by using their product as collateral while it is otherwise sitting on a shelf for the long aging process. While the mechanism was not born out of the current economic crisis, dating rather from Italy's post-World War II years, producers say it is ever more important because it ensures that credit keeps flowing during otherwise tight times.

"In times of crisis, the system is helping the cheesemakers," said Iginio Morini, spokesman for the Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium, which represents more than 400 Parmesan producers who are the only ones who may name their cheese "Parmigiano-Reggiano."

A cheesemaker turns over a percentage of his production, say 25 percent, to a bank warehouse, and is given a certificate which can be presented to the bank to secure the loan, Morini said.

In many cases, the cheesemaker then sells the title to the cheese to a distributor while the cheese is still aging.

"An advance payment, as the one offered from Credem (Credito Emiliano) is a really positive thing because it gives at least the chance of surviving the lapse of time, hoping that the market will recover in a short period of time," said Cristian Bertolini, a quality check expert for the consortium.

Typically, a Parmesan maker who produces 7,000 wheels a year might put up 2,000 as collateral for a loan. According to Morini's calculations, each wheel is worth as much as 300 euros (US$425), valuing the cheese collateral at 600,000 euros. The bank would then issue a loan of 60 percent to 70 percent of the value, so around 420,000 euros.


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