14 August 2015
Rumiano Cheese Co. pursues growth with organic and brand name products
Cheese Market News
By Kate Sander
CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — On the northern California coast, at the edge of the redwoods and shrouded in fog much of the year, sits Rumiano Cheese Co., an award-winning, family-owned cheese company whose success lies in its focus on sustainability and quality — from the farms where it gets its milk to the cheese plant.
The beginnings of Rumiano Cheese date back nearly a century to 1919 when the grandfather and great-uncles of today’s owners emigrated from Italy and purchased a dairy in Willows, California.
Today the company operates its plant in Crescent City and then transports its cheese a couple of hours southeast to its distribution and packaging facility in Willows.
“Our long-term goal is to invest capital in both plants, improve sustainability, and also help the producers who supply the plant milk to be successful,” says John Rumiano, company vice president who is a majority owner of the company with his brother, Baird, who is company president.
“Without quality milk, you don’t get quality cheese,” says John’s nephew, Joby Rumiano, who leads production and marketing and works closely with the 27 dairies that supply the plant — 19 of which are conventional and eight of which are organic — to improve forage and, if appropriate, shift to organic production.
Organic is a newer focus for Rumiano Cheese. The company — which makes more than 60 varieties of cheese as well as butter, whey protein concentrate-80 percent (WPC-80) and other related dairy products — has made organic products for several years, but demand now is exploding for organic, Joby Rumiano notes. Because many of Rumiano Cheese Co.’s producers already produce milk on farms that are nearly organic, converting to organic certification is the next logical step for some, he says, noting the area’s mild climate and abundant rainfall stimulates feed growth and allows for yearlong grazing.
“We really do have the happiest cows,” Joby Rumiano says, playing off Real California Milk’s Happy Cows slogan and noting the low-stress environment in Del Norte County and nearby Humboldt County — the two counties where all of its producers are located — is perfect for raising cows and cattle. Many of the dairies from which the company buys its milk are third and fourth generation dairies that have been shipping milk to Rumiano Cheese for decades.
The primary permanent pasture in the area is made up of Selina clover, red clover, rye grass and other coastal grasses, and Joby Rumiano’s excitement is palpable as he talks about the company’s work to find the best feed combinations to produce the highest-quality milk for cheesemaking.
Produced primarily by Jerseys, the rich milk of the grass-fed cows contributes to Rumiano cheeses’ creaminess and distinctive yellow color, he notes. Research also shows that milk from pasture-raised cows contains more CLA fatty acids than milk from cows fed mostly feed, plus grass-fed farming helps sustain the environment.
Rumiano Cheese produces several all-natural and organic award-winning cheese varieties including Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Mediterranean Jack and the product for which it may be best known, Dry Monterey Jack. The company has won numerous awards for its cheeses in recent years, most recently third in the Cow’s Milk Dry Jack Class at last month’s American Cheese Society competition and first in the contest for its Organic Unsalted Butter in the Cow’s Milk Butter Class. The company also won several medals at this year’s California State Fair for both its conventional and organic products.
Rumiano Cheese Co.’s newest products include Fontina, Gouda and an Organic Chipotle White Cheddar. The company is planning on soon coming out with its own line of retail shreds and is looking at introducing a party tray.
Regardless of whether or not they’re organic, all Rumiano cheese is produced with milk from cows not treated with artificial hormones, and the company utilizes non-animal enzymes. The organic cheese also is American Humane Certified and was the world’s first Non-GMO verified cheese through the Non-GMO Project, the company says.
Products are available for retail sale at the plant’s store in Crescent City — a gathering spot for locals looking for good cheese deals — and at natural foods stores and select grocery chains nationally.
The company, which also sells its product under private label, is working on further establishing its Rumiano brand. Branded sales are up 80 percent this year, and the company is planning on developing a new label in the next year.
The company’s employees take great pride in seeing the Rumiano Cheese Co. name on store shelves and always do what it takes to make things right with customers.
“Everything we make is 100-percent guaranteed,” John Rumiano says.
In addition to selling its own products domestically, Rumiano Cheese also buys other cheese and distributes it throughout the Pacific Northwest. The company exports as well, particularly to the Philippines, Korea and China.
Rumiano Cheese products also are used as ingredients, and this past year its cheese became a signature ingredient in Annie’s Inc.’s new line of Organic Grass Fed Macaroni & Cheese.
As part of its commitment to sustainability, Rumiano Cheese is constantly making improvements to its facilities.
Ten years ago, the company built a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility to reduce its total solid loadings on the city and allow further growth in the community in the form of more home sewer hookups. The Rumiano wastewater treatment facility biologically treats approximately 30,000 gallons per day of cheese production wash water, which decreased the company’s solid loadings to the city by 99 percent.
Then in January 2011, the company finished building its WPC-80 plant to utilize the protein out of its whey stream. The dryer utilizes a boiler flue gas heat recovery system, which saves 43 percent of the energy needed to heat the dryer. The WPC-80 is sold in bulk as an ingredient or non-meat protein substitute.
Currently, the company is finishing the installation of a lactose recovery facility at its Crescent City location, which includes reverse osmosis (RO) and evaporation equipment so that it can separate out lactose and create a marketable product.
While the equipment is expensive, the cost analysis showed that it would pay off in just a few years, Joby Rumiano says, noting the new RO system and evaporation equipment also will, with UV light treatment, allow the company to create potable water to reuse in its operations.
The company’s unique facilities, combined with the longevity of its employees, work together to complete the final piece that makes Rumiano Cheese successful.
“We’ve got a great team and strong customer service,” John Rumiano says.
More than half of the company’s approximately 150 employees have been with Rumiano Cheese for more than a decade.
“We’re passionate about what we do,” Joby Rumiano says. “It’s hard work, but it’s fun.”