With the economy questionable and no one exactly sure when the markets will rebound, it's a good time to invest in solid, verifiable assets. Banks in Italy take an even more pragmatic approach, accepting as collateral for loans something not only solid and verifiable–but edible, should it come to that. According to a Bloomberg News report, the warehouses of regional bank Credito Emiliano hold about 440,000 wheels of parmesan cheese.

Accepting cheese as collateral is one way that bankers can continue to finance the region's famed cheesemakers during the recession. Credito Emiliano, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region southeast of Milan, has been using parmesan as collateral since 1953. The practice of using parmesan in financial dealings dates to the Middle Ages.

The bank stores the cheeses in climate-controlled warehouses and has a separate unit, called Magazzini Generali delle Tagliate, to manage the valuable wheels. The two warehouses hold 440,000 wheels of cheese–worth €132 million, or $187.5 million. If the loans are not repaid, the bank sells the cheese, which it maintains during the aging process, to recover its investment.

Apparently, bankers aren't the only people who appreciate a solid investment: earlier this year, thieves tunneled into one of the warehouses and stole 570 pieces of cheese before they were caught by police.

If you're thinking of investing in a wheel of cheese, owner Norbert Wabnig of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, which has been importing cheeses since 1967, can probably set you up.

The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills: 419 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 278-2855.

LA Weekly