A History of Quality Products at Rumiano Cheese Company
By Jordan Venema
By Jordan Venema
CHEDDAR, SWISS, GOUDA, Parmesan. We all know that the best cheese, like a good wine, ages gracefully – heck, even cheddar can age up to five, six years – but California-based Rumiano Cheese Company is taking aging gracefully to another level.
For nearly 100 years, the Rumiano family has made a name for itself making and distributing cheese, but were it not for a major world event of the early 20th century, three Rumiano brothers may never have founded one of the largest cheese companies in California.
According to Baird Rumiano, his grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers came to the United States to work in Amador County in the gold mines, when World War I broke out.
“They moved to San Francisco and worked in the shipyards, but they always wanted to have a dairy like they did back in Italy,” he says.
The brothers saved and bought property in Willows, began milking cows, and in 1919 they began distributing milk around the town.
“They had more milk than they could bottle, so they started making butter, and in 1920, ‘21, they had even more calves,” continues Rumiano. “So one of the brothers went to UC Davis and took a short course in cheese making.”
Good that they did. By 1940, because of another world event, Rumiano Cheese Company became the third-largest cheese manufacturer in the United States and the largest in California.
“They were supplying American-style cheese, like slices, and making it for the armed forces to put in K rations,” explains Rumiano.
Following the war, business slowed down, and the family even considered liquidating the business. Then in the 1970s, Rumiano began working for his family, which would mark a turning point for the company.
During the ‘70s the remaining factory was located in Crescent City, and when the manager fell sick with cancer, Rumiano was sent to help out.
“I’d never worked before for my father. I’d never even made cheese before. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” he says with a laugh. “I got there and the manager died about three weeks later, and I’ve been here ever since. That was 45 years ago.”
Then in 1978, Rumiano’s father passed away, and by 1980 he and his brother bought the company from the remaining family members. By the early 1980s, the third-generation Rumiano brothers began making changes to the company, including retrofits to the Crescent City plant.
“We put in a wastewater treatment facility, so now we treat all our own waste here, and as it goes out, the water is cleaner than when it goes in,” says Rumiano. “We actually reduced our water consumption from 50,000 gallons a day to 20,000.”
They also added a protein concentrate plant that makes butter from fat separated from whey protein, and a lactose plant that dries lactose through reverse osmosis. “With the water that comes off that, we use it to wash our equipment down,” adds Rumiano.
But more than retrofits, Rumiano Cheese Company is building on its legacy through investing in the multiple generations of its employees and partners.
“My brother and I, we are 68 and 65, so it’s pretty much going to be handed over to our boys in the next few years, and they’ll be fourth generation. Then I have a new granddaughter and she’ll be the fifth,” says Rumiano. “It was like starting over in 1980, but now you’ll have four cousins working together. Who knows what that will bring?”
And when asked what’s greatest about working in a multigenerational company, Rumiano doesn’t hesitate to say the employees.
“I have employees right now celebrating their 40th anniversary with me, and I have fathers who became grandfathers and their grandsons are working here – father-son combos, and cousins – it’s a great group of people.
“We’re also buying milk from four generations of dairymen,” continues Rumiano. “Some of these dairies in Crescent City have been here since 1855.”
That’s the kind of growth that goes beyond economic success, but it also doesn’t hurt that the two go hand in hand.
“When I first came here, we made 3 million pounds of cheese and now we make 12 million,” says Rumiano. “And our product, thank God, is in high demand. We put a lot of love and effort into our product here.”
And that heart transforms into everything from organic to natural cheeses, like smoked mozzarella and cheddar, Gouda and havarti. And as might be expected, Rumiano himself is a big fan of those cheeses, and always has them on stock, but when asked his personal favorite, well, he suggests the dry jack. •