This year, Rumiano Cheese Company is marking an auspicious anniversary; the Crescent City-based cheesemaker, founded in 1919, is celebrating 100 years in cheesemaking, a distinction that also cements Rumiano Cheese’s stature as the oldest family-owned cheese company in California.
Never one to rest on its laurels, Rumiano Cheese Company is taking its centenary as an opportunity to grow its product line, highlight its place in cheese history, and hint at innovative offerings yet to come. I spoke with CEO Joe Baird to learn more about the company’s plans for 2019 and its storied history.
“In 1911, three brothers from outside Torino, Italy, heard about the riches of California during the latest stages of the Gold Rush. They decided to come here and head into the mountains to prospect for gold,” Joe told me. “That lasted about six months at the end of which it was cold; they had no gold, and San Francisco was booming, so they decided to move to the city and work in the shipyards."
The Rumiano brothers moved back to the burgeoning port city of San Francisco. Work at the shipyards proved taxing, and soon the enterprising siblings embarked on a new business venture.
“They knew how to make liquor, so they got into the liquor business,” Joe said. “Then prohibition happened in 1919.”
January of 1919 brought with it the ratification of the 18th Amendment—and the nationwide prohibition against “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquours.” The Rumianos had just launched their liquor business, but it seemed history had other plans for the family, and the three brothers would soon hit on their recipe for success.
“Being industrious, they said, ‘San Francisco is growing; we need a lot of food, and they’re practically giving away land in the valley, so let’s try our hand at dairy,’” Joe said. “That was 100 years ago in 1919, and they were very industrious and just grew like hell.”
Joe told me that leading up to World War II, Rumiano became one of the largest cheese companies in the United States—operating seven plants and supplying to the U.S. military. After the end of the war, though, booming demand for dairy subsided, and the Rumianos got serious about the craft of producing the best possible product to maintain the company’s prominent place in the market.
“The war ended, that demand went away, and they asked themselves, ‘Where does the best milk come from that we can make the best cheese from?’ That was up in the Northwest part of California,” Joe explained. “And that’s the heritage that we live with today. We have a packaging plant and distribution center north of Sacramento, and all of our dairy is up the North Coast. We have 25 family farms that we work with, and our main plant is on the Oregon border.”
The now fourth-generation company (soon to be fifth, Joe tells me, as baby Claire Rumiano has already been fitted for a hairnet), is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a series of new and exciting product offerings that look back to the heritage of California history and celebrate the unique culture of the Golden State.
In part two of this story, we’ll look at some of the innovative new products that Rumiano Cheese Company is introducing as the company etches a triple digit onto its ledgers.