Rumiano Cheese Company is the oldest family-owned cheese company in California.
The Early Days
Brothers Richard, Fred and John Rumiano emigrated to the United States from Italy at the turn of the century. After years of working in the Amador County mines, the brothers pooled their resources and in 1919 purchased a small dairy in Willows, CA. Within a few years, the dairy had grown enough so that the Rumiano brothers could experiment with butter and cheese production. By the mid-1930s, the enterprise had developed into the largest cheese company in California with eight factories. With the advent of major national and state highway systems and mechanized cheese making, large commodity processing facilities supplanted local cheese factories. Eventually, the Rumiano family sold all but two of its facilities.
Rumiano’s Willow Maid Dry Jack – The First to Market
The Rumiano Brothers were known for their high-quality products and for their development of Dry Jack cheese. Dry Jack was originally sold “fresh” to Italian businesses and distributors in the San Francisco region, where the cheese would be aged in the cool cellars below the merchant’s shops. The Rumiano Brothers changed this process by aging the cheese in their own hand-dug cellars. This allowed them to take the fully matured product to market. Demand and sales rapidly increased. Because they were the first to offer this aged Dry Jack, the Rumiano Brothers are considered the original developers of Dry Monterey Jack Cheese.
1980 – A New Era
In 1980, brothers and third-generation family members Baird and John Rumiano, president and vice president, respectively, purchased the company and shifted its emphasis towards foodservice distribution. Some of the company’s current major clients include U.S. Foodservice and Sysco.
Prior to 1980, there was little reinvestment in the company, according to Baird Rumiano. After roughly 18 years, the brothers were able to complete an entire refurbishment of the business, which included the installation of new tables, towers, vats, and automated labelers. “We’re constantly upgrading our machinery,” Baird Rumiano said, “usually every six to eight years.”
One Fine Milk Shed
Rumiano’s cheese production takes place in Crescent City, which is located roughly 10 miles from the Oregon border in northern California. The company receives its milk supply from independent, third and fourth generation dairy farmers from nearby Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
The area’s mild climate and abundant rainfall stimulates feed growth and allows for year-long grazing. Both Humboldt and Del Norte counties are also comprised of marine terraces that are ideal for grazing, the company noted.
“We have some of the finest milk in the nation here,” Baird Rumiano said. The business receives approximately 300,000 pounds of milk per day, which almost exclusively comes from Jersey cows.
Good sanitation practices are of primary concern to Rumiano Cheese Company. In the 1970s, Baird Rumiano began to give quality and cleanliness bonuses to company patrons as incentives to produce the freshest milk. All of the milk used by Rumiano Cheese Company is free of artificial hormones (rBST).
Under the Rumiano Cheese Company brand name, Rumiano produces several cheese varieties like Cheddar, Calico, Pepper Jack, Mediterranean Jack, Latino varieties, and Lo-Fat/Lo-Sodium cheeses. Rumiano’s Dry Monterey Jack is its specialty, though. Dry Jack is a California hard cheese that is aged nine months or more in cellars and climate-controlled environments to achieve a medium-to-sharp nutty flavor. A traditional coating is then applied that consists of black pepper dust, cocoa powder, and oil. Rumiano’s also produces a Dry Monterey Jack flavored with whole peppercorns that are otherwise known as Peppato. Peppato has most recently won the 2005 United States Cheese Championship for flavored hard cheese and placed fourth in the 2006 World Cheese Championship.
“We’re really proud of our products here,” says Baird Rumiano.
Full-Service Cheese Company
Besides producing its own brand of products, the Rumiano Cheese Company makes cheese for other private labels. The company does a lot of co-packing, according to John Rumiano.
Nearly 300 miles southeast of Crescent City is the company’s distribution center in Willows, CA. The business also buys cheese from across the US and abroad and distributes it throughout the Northwest. Rumiano assembles and distributes over 300 styles of cheese – from French Brie to Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar. As part of Rumiano’s continuous upgrade, the company built a natural cheese slicing operation – a first for the West Coast. At that point, the company was able to assemble cheese in shingle packs for the foodservice and retail trades.
The Keys to Success
The success Rumiano Cheese Company has acquired over nearly 90 years can be credited to two important factors, the first being a talented and hard-working staff, according to Baird and John. The company employs roughly 150 workers for both facilities, most of which have been with Rumiano Cheese Company for over 20 years, according to Baird. Master cheesemaker Alfred Mathys has been employed with the company for 24 years. The other factor is simply a high-quality supply of milk.
“It all comes down to good people, good ingredients and good products,” says Baird Rumiano.
Back to the Future
As far as aspirations for the next 80 years, the Rumiano family has one wish – that its fourth generation carries on the family heritage of cheese making. Baird’s two sons, Joby and Tony, and John’s twin boys, Owen and Raymond, are next in line to maintain the tradition.
“The oldest one is learning how to make cheese right now,” Baird said. “I’m 56 years old right now and I’d like to retire someday. Not right now though…”