Leave it to the Italians to truly understand the value of a piece of ham or a bottle of wine. In these tough financial times, Italian banks are considering accepting prosciutto and high-quality wine as collateral for loans. And why not? They’ve been accepting Parmesan cheese as collateral for years. “We’ve done it with cheese, why not with prosciutto and good wines like Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico?” said Gianni Zonin, chairman of the Banca Popolare di Vicenza, referring to the Italian bank Credito Emiliano, which for many years has stored hundreds of thousands of wheels of Parmesan as collateral. A wheel of Parmesan cheese is worth hundreds of euros, as is a leg of cured ham that’s been properly aged or a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino. Should creditors default on their loans, the bank can easily sell and make profit on the cheese, and this logic has led to banks being able to offer lower interest rates to an industry that’s fallen on hard times. “This is a great idea, it has my blessing,” said Luca Zaia, the Italian agriculture minister. “Apart from meeting the need of companies for liquidity, this proposal also recognizes that our true gold reserves are the excellent products we make in Italy.” Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.