Profiles of the heroes who protect and promote common food names.
David Ahlem, CEO, Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc.
In 1983, twelve central California dairy families sat in a local diner and dreamed of creating a cheese company that would boost the value of their Jersey cows’ high-solids milk. David Ahlem’s parents joined with other local dairy farmer families to form the initial concepts on the back of a napkin. That group created Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc.
David grew up learning how a group of diverse families could work together to build Hilmar Cheese Company. He worked summers during college in the processing plant and joined Cargill Animal Nutrition as business manager after earning a B.A. from Westmont College and an M.B.A. from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
In 2004, Ahlem returned to Hilmar Cheese Company as site manager of its Texas plant, where he was instrumental in developing a state-of-the-art facility. In 2011, he and his family moved back to California where he held various leadership positions before becoming Hilmar’s chief executive officer.
Hilmar Cheese Company and its division, Hilmar Ingredients, serve customers in more than 50 countries. State-of-the-art production facilities in California and Texas convert high-quality milk from local dairy farms into cheese, whey ingredients and milk powders. The company specializes in the production of cheddar and American-style cheeses used by private label and national brand companies worldwide.
As an international company, Hilmar is very supportive of the Consortium for Common Food Names and its work. “We recognize the threat and trade hurdles geographical indications can create,” David Ahlem said. “They impact some of our valued customers’ international business, so a fair playing field is important to us as well as all U.S. producers. Dairy has so much good to offer but there are challenges to its availability that deserve the global dairy industry’s action.”
“Protecting common cheese names is vitally important and it’s fortunate that CCFN has taken on this role for dairy and the other threatened industries,” Ahlem said.
Jaime Olvera Kipper, Owner, Kipper Cheese from Mexico
Jaime Olvera Kipper is the owner and CEO of Kipper Cheese from Mexico, a manufacturer of gourmet cheeses, most of them French. A biochemical engineer, Jaime graduated from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education and then pursued a master’s degree in dairy products and milk at Cornell University in New York. He began a successful, 40-year career in food and dairy businesses in Japan, after studying food science there. Jaime became the general manager of several companies, but was always linked to the production of specialty cheese. He is known as a “cheese master.”
Jaime’s mother was of French origin, and his grandparents were from France’s Alsace region. As a result, he was constantly exposed to French culinary customs. Later, Jaime’s family immigrated to Guanajuato, in the center of Mexico, a traditional dairy region.
“From a very young age,” he said, “I always wanted to have my own company and specialize in high quality cheeses.” A few years ago, Jaime applied the experience inherited from his grandparents to create Kipper Cheese from Mexico. The company produces Chevrotin, Tomme, Brique, Munster, Reblochon and Manchego, among other specialty cheeses. It uses cow and goat milk produced by Mexican milk producers, and has world-class quality standards.
“We are a small but constantly growing company, so we are very concerned about the European Union policies pursuing the exclusive takeover of common food names,” Jaime said. “It is not fair that the effort and dedication of years of work be expropriated; of course, we are in favor of respect for the Denomination of Origin, but not in the case of generic names, especially when families that came from Europe created the market.”
Jaime doesn’t believe the EU has the right to simply confiscate something through a trade negotiation. “I am just one example of the numerous cheese producers in Mexico and around the world that have dedicated their lives to developing markets outside Europe,” he said. “The right of common names belongs to us all.”
“At Kipper Cheese from Mexico,” he said, “we have plans for the future, and, while we are not a big company, we have worked very hard. We ask the government offices that handle foreign trade to be vigilant and protect our legitimate right to produce cheeses and name them with the names that have become common over the years.”
Neal Schuman, CEO, Schuman Cheese
As the chief executive of a U.S. company making Italian heritage cheeses, Neal Schuman is concerned about Europe’s campaign to gain exclusive rights to names like parmesan, asiago and mozzarella. So Schuman supports the work of the Consortium for Common Food Names.
“I do believe that the European negotiating position is an attempt to try to undermine well-established businesses that were predicated on our traditional system of standards of identities, Code of Federal Regulations, and long-standing trademark law,” Schuman said. “Any attempt to change our past and deeply ingrained rules neglects the many years of investment people and companies have made to build their brands, their businesses, and risks putting many U.S. citizens out of work.”
“In addition,” Schuman said, “it limits consumer options in countries abroad. They deserve a choice of products and products at different price.”
Schuman is the third-generation head of Schuman Cheese, a company that exemplifies how the cheese industry has grown and flourished in the United States. His grandfather, company founder Arthur Schuman, started out importing high-quality cheeses from Italy and then used what he learned to open U.S. plants making authentic Italian cheeses using old-world methods.
Today, Schuman Cheese’s award-winning products, handcrafted in Wisconsin, can be found in stores ranging from mom-and-pop delis to major retailers. Its brands include Cello, Bella Rosa, G. Carbonelli, Pastures of Eden and Tutta Bella.
Known for decades as Arthur Schuman, Inc., the company recently marked its 70th anniversary by changing its name to Schuman Cheese and launching a new brand, Yellow Door Creamery. Its headquarters is in Fairfield, New Jersey, less than 20 miles from where the company started. Last year, Schuman also launched its own labeling initiative, known as True Cheese, to emphasize the importance of quality and authenticity in cheese making.
Emilio Karake, Operations Director, Italiana de Alimentos, S.A., Guatemala
Architect by profession and restaurateur by passion, Emilio Karake is the Guatemala franchise owner for Italianni’s, a chain of casual, authentic Italian restaurants. After 10 years specializing in design and construction of commercial and corporate spaces, Karake in 2010 was offered an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. After an exhaustive, 90-day hands-on program, he acquired the know-how for the restaurant business, and immediately proceeded to open the first Italianni’s in Guatemala, in 2011.
Italianni’s was conceived in Texas in 1991 by the Carlson Group, creators of TGI Friday’s. In 1996, Italianni’s opened its first restaurants in Mexico and the Philippines. Today, it has 95 restaurants in the two countries – and it’s still growing. Success comes in part from treating each customer as a guest in their own home. Food made from authentic Italian recipes is enjoyed in a family environment with surroundings that take guests for a few minutes to a bistro in Italy.
As a Guatemalan restaurateur specializing in Italian food, Karake is concerned about the European Union’s attempts to claim exclusive rights to common-name products like parmesan that have been produced in Central America for decades.
“By trying to take back names like parmesan, the European Union is harming thousands of small and medium-sized producers in Guatemala and neighboring countries,” Karake said. “Fortunately, the Consortium for Common Food Names is fighting back. It is playing a crucial role in opposing the EU’s abuse of the geographical indications concept. That’s why I’m a CCFN supporter. It is important to protect the right to use generic names like parmesan.”
Mike McCloskey, CEO, Select Milk Producers, Inc.
Call Mike McCloskey the ultimate innovator. A native of Pittsburgh who grew up in Puerto Rico, he earned a Doctorat
e in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Mexico City, completed a residency in Dairy Herd Health Production from U.C. Davis and then opened a dairy veterinary practice in Escondido, California. By the mid-1980s, he and his wife, Sue, were partners in their first dairy. In 1990 they moved to Southeastern New Mexico, where they partnered in two 2,500-cow dairies.
A few years later, the McCloskeys, their partner and some like-minded dairy farmers formed Select Milk Producers. With McCloskey as its CEO, the cooperative soon realized a reputation for service, quality and accountability to its buyers, which included H.E.B., Deans Foods and Kroger. While continuing to grow the co-op, McCloskey developed a way to concentrate milk by removing water and lactose. The result was reduced transportation costs, which allowed distant, more profitable markets to become available.
By 1998, the McCloskeys were looking for another challenge. Moving their home base from New Mexico to northest Indiana, and with the help of their partner, they opened what is now a 15,000 acre, five-facility farm that milks 15,000 cows. Realizing that they had the opportunity to influence and counter misperceptions about large-scale dairy farming, the McCloskeys, along with eight nearby family-owned dairy farms, opened their entire operation to the public. Along with a Dairy Adventure building, the Birthing Barn and the now famous Fair Oaks Farms Cowfé, they created an agritourism attraction that last year hosted half a million visitors. Three years ago, the Fair Oaks Farms Pig Adventure opened showcasing a modern 3,000-sow farrowing barn. This year, Winfield Solutions’ Crop Adventure building is scheduled to open. Besides being state-of-the-art centers of “edutainment,” all of these facilities are powered by methane digesters that run off of the manure of 15,000 cows and 3,000 sows.
Innovation continued with fairlife, Select Milk Producers’ health and wellness subsidiary, which produces high-protein, low-sugar milks as well as Core Power, a high protein muscle recovery drink. In 2011, fairlife partnered with The Coca Cola Company in the beverage giant’s first American foray into dairy. Today, Coke delivers fairlife’s products coast to coast. Because of its innovation in both technology and product development, fairlife’s Coopersville, Michigan, plant was recently named Processor of the Year by Dairy Foods magazine.
Given McCloskey’s innovative nature and his life-long involvement in dairy farming, it’s not surprising that Select Milk Producers joined the Consortium for Common Food Names. “The work of the Consortium is crucial,” Mike McCloskey said. “No other global organization is standing up to the European Union’s outrageous attempts to monopolize food names—especially cheese names—that have long been in the public domain.
“Names like feta and parmesan belong to everyone, not just a small group of producers in Greece and Italy,” McCloskey added. “Decisions being made now in regulations and trade agreements across the globe will have a tremendous impact on the U.S. dairy industry’s ability to use cheese names crucial to its success. Select Milk must be part of a campaign to keep these names available to cheese producers everywhere.”
Interview with Roberto Brazzale, CEO of Gruppo Brazzale
Ed Townley, CEO of Agri-Mark
One of the best-known and well-loved cheese names in the United States is “Cabot,” a brand that evokes the farm families and rich cheese-making traditions of Vermont and the rolling rural countryside of the Northeast. While Cabot is best known as award-winning cheddar cheese, the Agri-Mark cooperative also offers a full array of cheeses, butter, yogurt and other dairy products using both the Cabot and McCadam brands.
Agri-Mark, which just celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2013, markets milk from 1,200 dairy farm families in New England and New York and has annual sales of $1.1 billion. Agri-Mark is the first dairy cooperative in the U.S. to gain B-Corp Certification. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
When it comes to protecting generic terms, high on Cabot’s list is its ability to use the common names “cheddar,” “muenster” and “Greek yogurt”. It has won numerous awards for its high-quality products in all three categories. While so far “cheddar” has not been directly threatened by the European Union’s (EU) efforts to over-extend geographical indication protections, Agri-Mark is well aware that the line keeps moving and, for now, no term with roots in Europe can be deemed safe. The name “muenster,” which Cabot produces out of its Chateaugay, N.Y., plant, was targeted for new restrictions by the EU in its free trade agreement with Canada, and countries are banned from shipping muenster to the EU.
“We’ve seen how the EU is pursuing ownership of the words ‘muenster,’ ‘parmesan,’, ‘feta,’ ‘asiago’ and ‘havarti’, among many other names. At this point there doesn’t seem to be a clear line of where they will stop,” said Ed Townley, Agri-Mark CEO. “Fortunately, we know the CCFN is working very hard to expose these abuses and push back – that’s vitally important for the future of our business here in the U.S. and also for our trade interests. Dairy exports are becoming increasingly important for the entire U.S. dairy industry.”
Many food names – from “cheddar” to “pizza,” originated in Europe, but have long since become generic.
“Our hard-working dairy farm families have made millions of dollars in investments in products that everyone knows by these names,” said Townley. “We’re proud of our cheddar, muenster and other products, and look forward to sharing them for generations to come.”
Giorgio Linguanti, Proprietor and Cheesemaker, That’s Amore Cheese
In 2004 Giorgio Linguanti arrived on the shores of Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, Australia. In only four years this young Sicilian went from not speaking a word of English to opening his own cheese shop and winning awards at the Royal Melbourne Show; he has won numerous awards since.
Linguanti came to Melbourne looking for a fresh start, leaving behind a career in advertising and his life in Italy. He got a job in an Australian cheese factory where his interest and passion for making cheese ignited. “It looked challenging” he confessed.
He learned on his feet, and after washing a lot of cheese vats and stretching a lot of curd, in 2008 That’s Amore Cheese was born. He made cheese on Sunday, and drove around to restaurants and shops on weekday mornings to give out product samples. He began with just one product – bocconcini leaf, which was a hit with the Italian restaurants. Before long he was also making burrata and smoked scarmorza. Chefs admired his artisan skills in handmade cheeses. Now Linguanti’s business, which has grown rapidly, is moving into a larger factory in Thomastown.
“I have great respect for these famous, delicate cheeses that we make by hand each day. We make mozzarella, bocconcini, ricotta, mascarpone, scamorza and others. Yes, these cheeses originated in my home country of Italy, but we proudly make them here according to those traditions, and spread the love for these cheeses – and the names of these cheeses – here in Australia.”
That’s Amore Cheese has won numerous awards for its specialty cheeses, including silver and gold medals from the Australian Grand Dairy Awards, Australian Dairy Product Competition, Australian Specialist Cheesemakers Association, Royal Melbourne Fine Foods Awards, and others.
“The key to cheesemaking is love. That’s true for everything you do, not just cheese,” said Linguanti. “If you do it with love, the results are obvious – it’s got to be good. That’s why my company’s name, ‘That’s Amore’, means ‘That’s Love.'”
Norberto Purtschert, General Manager, Floralp SA
Norberto Purtschert, Floralp
In 1949, Norberto Purtschert’s father Oskar left Switzerland for Ecuador with a specific two-year commission to make the Swiss cheeses he knew and loved from his homeland. But to Ecuadoreans, hard cheeses like gruyere were still eccentric, and didn’t immediately catch on. In fact, Oskar nearly gave up and left Ecuador, until Ecuadorean President Galo Plaza Laso tasted his cheeses at an exhibition, was impressed, and convinced him to stay. After several years Oskar founded Floralp in the city of Ibarra. Appropriately, he named the new company Floralp, meaning flower of the Alps.
Now it’s the 50th anniversary of Floralp, which has become a South American dairy industry leader in the production and marketing of fresh, semi-soft and hard cheeses. Over the years Floralp helped develop a taste and market for many European cheeses within Ecuador and neighboring Peru and Colombia. Today the company offers parmesan, camembert, brie, gruyere, tilsiter, raclette, manchego, feta, emmentaler, cheddar, fontina, mozzarella and provolone. The company has received awards in social responsibility, as well as honors for its brie, camembert and other products.
“Looking at our product list, it’s easy to understand why we are members of the Consortium for Common Food Names, and why we feel so strongly that these cheeses are just as much a part of our heritage and business as for anyone else who makes them,” says Norberto Purtschert, who now leads the company. Oskar passed away in 2013.
“My father founded this company with the vision of applying the highest standards of quality to meet the demands of our customers,” Purtschert continues. “This has always been a family company where everyone pitches in and helps out, where we try to promote a sense of community, protect the environment, and provide nutritious and delicious products.
“To us, the most important qualities are to be fair and considerate of others, both within our company operations and in the community. I believe the issue of protecting generic names fits absolutely into that mandate of fairness, so that everyone can use these names for products that many, many people have made, shared and enjoyed over many years,” he said.
Pedro Garcia, Tregar – García Hnos. Agroindustrial S.R.L.
Pedro Garcia of Tregar
Argentina is the seventh largest cheese producer in the world, and cheese companies like Tregar, based in the northeast province of Santa Fe, help fulfil the nation’s love for a wide variety of cheeses.
Pedro Garcia, owner, and his brothers Vicente and Florencio, have helped grow Tregar’s dairy interests from its humble beginnings when their parents, Spanish immigrants, started the business in the 1930s. The company currently produces a wide variety of soft, semi-hard and hard cheeses, such as gouda, edam, fontina, gruyere, mozzarella, sardo, reggianito, and many others. It also produces yogurt and dry milk products.
“Over many years we have built a brand that carries a high-quality reputation across all our products, especially our cheeses,” Garcia said.
With the Mercosur-EU trade talks reportedly back on track, Garcia is keeping a close eye on EU stipulations regarding geographical indications. Tregar sells primarily to the domestic market, with increasing interest in exports to other destinations in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe (Russian Federation).
“When food producers in countries trading with the EU aren’t paying attention, they may wake up to find they suddenly have serious restrictions to deal with coming out of trade agreements,” Garcia said. “We are doing what we can now to make sure we will still be free to use generic names like ‘gouda’, ‘edam’, ‘fontina’, ‘gruyere’ and ‘provolone’, both here in Argentina and in trade with other nations around the world.”
Tregar supports CCFN and is a vocal ally for protecting the rights to use common food names in Argentina and around the globe. http://www.tregar.com.ar/
Ron Buholzer, Klondike Cheese
Ron (right) and brothers Steve (middle) and Dave
Swiss immigrant Ernest Buholzer began making Swiss cheese in southern Wisconsin in 1925, establishing a family cheesemaking business that continues to this day. Seven members of the Buholzer family now work together at Klondike Cheese Co., including President Ron Buholzer (the founder’s grandson), his brothers Dave and Steve, and fourth generation family members.
The company makes feta, muenster, brick and havarti cheeses, as well as an exciting new venture in Greek-style yogurt.
“We are recognized nationally for our very authentic, award-winning feta,” said Ron Buholzer. “We have four master cheesemakers, state-of-the-art equipment, and great employees who are really committed to providing superior quality and consistency for all our products.
At the 2014 U.S. Cheese Championship Contest, Klondike won top awards for its lowfat feta in brine, muenster, and reduced-fat peppercorn feta in brine. Last year its Odyssey® brand Med Herb flavored feta, Odyssey® fat-free feta and Swisconsin® Havarti all won first place in their categories.
“Our cheeses have earned many awards but our greatest joy is when we hear from someone how much they have enjoyed one of our cheeses,” says Buholzer.
Obviously, efforts to take away Klondike’s right to use the common names “feta”, “havarti” – and even “Greek yogurt” cut pretty close to the bone for this fourth-generation cheese company.
“It’s outrageous, really, that anyone would claim to have sole ownership of these names,” says Buholzer. “We take great pride in the quality of our feta and havarti, and have for decades. This is an economic issue for us, certainly, but it’s also personal – it’s about what’s right and fair.”
“We’ve been an active member of CCFN since 2012. I think one of the most important things they’re doing is spreading the word about this issue, because it has the potential to affect many, many food producers all over the world. It’s important to draw a line in the sand and make it clear that these names belong to all of us,” Buholzer said.
Jim Sartori, Sartori Co.
This year, Sartori Company is celebrating its 75th anniversary, looking back on an award-studded history that dates to 1939, when Italian immigrant Paolo Sartori started making cheese in Wisconsin, USA. Among other things, Sartori Co. was a trailblazer in exporting its cheeses, and in 1970 was the first exporter of U.S. cheese to Japan… and to Italy! Today the fourth-generation family-owned and operated company makes varieties of parmesan, asiago, fontina and romano cheeses.
Passionate about his cheese, CEO Jim Sartori is also passionate about protecting common cheese names.
“In open, global competition in the UK in 2011, our SarVecchio® Parmesan won first place in the Parmesan Cheese Category – even beating out Parmigiano Reggiano, and we remain extremely proud of that,” he said. “Since that time, the UK competition no longer allows Italian and non-Italian versions of parmesan to compete head-to-head, which to us just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
“The work of CCFN is very important,” he continued, “because there’s no other global, organized effort to stand up to the EU’s attempts to own names that really belong to everyone. What happens to these names in the next few years – the decisions made in trade agreements and regulations around the world – will have a real impact on the ability of quality food businesses to compete fairly and successfully, no matter where their business is located.”
Sartori cheese has been honored with numerous awards, medals and ribbons not just for its parmesan, but also for other “common name” cheeses including asiago and fontina.
“Our cheese making process is still very hands-on today. We use a lot of the same techniques we’ve used since day one,” Sartori said. “I believe that’s one way we set ourselves apart from others. We take time to perfect our cheese, whether it’s curing the cheese to the right age or hand-rubbing each treated wheel; we know the love and care we put into making our cheese resonates with those sharing it around the dinner tables.”
Errico Auricchio, BelGioioso Cheese
Errico Auricchio’s family has been making Italian-style cheeses since 1877. Thirty years ago, Errico moved his family from Italy to the United States to start his own cheese company in Green Bay, Wisconsin, making asiago, grana, fontina, mozzarella, gorgonzola, parmesan, provolone and romano.
“From the beginning, I had only one goal – to make great Italian cheeses – and I succeeded. The complete line is made from authentic Italian recipes. We don’t cut corners when making them; that is why each BelGioioso cheese has its own personality,” Auricchio says.
As chairman of the Consortium for Common Food Names, Auricchio notes that it’s “hard to believe we need to defend the right to use common names like parmesan. We have to raise the issue so people are aware of it.”
“This is not just a question of dollars and cents, but of fairness and choice. These are names that are in the public domain. The logical path is to label foods so consumers can choose what they want – whether it’s a product from the valleys of France, Italy or Wisconsin. What matters is that they can choose,” he says.
Auricchio also points out that cheeses such as many he makes have more value to all cheesemakers today because producers around the world have made them, and exposed millions of people to them.
“That’s better for everyone. A protected name without exposure will severely limit sales of that product,” he notes.
“Every cheesemaker should join the consortium, whether they make these styles of cheese today or not, so that they will always be free to produce them in the future. And every consumer association should join because consumers should always have a choice,” he says.
Through the years, BelGioioso cheeses have won many prestigious awards and have set a standard of excellence in the industry.
The company has five state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities located in Wisconsin. Each plant specializes in a specific cheese that is produced there daily by the same cheesemakers. BelGioioso also exports to several countries around the world. http://www.belgioioso.com
Jose L. Vargas Leiton, Corporación Monteverde CR, S.A.
Monteverde Corporation was founded 60 years ago, in an isolated area of Costa Rica. The company has played a critical role in the development and economy of the community.
Monteverde employs over 400 workers in its production and marketing of dairy products. In addition, 450 members, farm workers and their families depend on the company for their livelihood.
The company specializes in the production of mature cheeses such as gouda, edam, provolone, emmenthal and parmesan, among many others.
“We have been producing these products for many decades,” says José L. Vargas Leitón, Gerente General.
“The European Community has been seeking to claw back the common names that we have been using for decades in Costa Rica and Central America by local farmers and immigrants,” he adds. “On this matter, the Consortium plays an essential role and we are proud to be part of it. It is essential to protect the rights of producers and processors to maintain the ability to use generic names such as parmesan. Otherwise, thousands of small and medium-sized producers in Central America will be affected economically.”