Errico Auricchio, Founder and President of BelGioioso, Talks Cheese
Errico Auricchio, founder and President of BelGioioso Cheese, Inc., reflects on the past with culture editor Elaine Khosrova.
I came from a little village near Naples [Italy] called San Giuseppe Vesuviano. My family has been in the cheese business for four generations, starting with my great-grandfather in 1879. One hundred years later, in 1979, I moved to the United States with my wife and our three little children to start a cheese company with a cousin.
We left Italy because of the very tense political situation there at the time. We were afraid the communist party would gain the majority in the Parliament, and we could lose the business. Of course, one year later, in 1980, there was another election, and the communists were totally defeated and disappeared from the scene. We always said we’d return to Italy, but once you get settled here, it is hard to go back.
I believe quality comes from commitment. And that is a daily pursuit.
With seed money from Italy, we founded Auricchio Cheese in Wisconsin. I had spent a month traveling all over—to Vermont, upstate New York, California, and Pennsylvania—before deciding on a location in Wisconsin. I thought it was by far the best place because of the proximity and number of dairy farms. The industry is much more important here than in other places.
Eventually, I sold my shares of the Italian company to my cousins in Italy, and I bought from them the shares of the American company. At that point I had to change the company name, Auricchio, to distinguish it from the Italian company [of the same name]. I chose the name BelGioioso . . . after a very popular spreadable cheese in Italy.
We started the revolution—the specialty cheese revolution in Wisconsin. At that time there was only cheddar and Colby. We created Parmesan, provolone, Asiago, fontina . . . cheeses that were not known here. We did not sell one pound of cheese in Wisconsin at the time. We shipped all our products to big cities such as New York, Chicago, and Boston.
I am not a cheesemaker. I know how to do it, but it is not my expertise. But I have a very good palate and a very good nose. I can tell a defect in a cheese and very likely where it comes from. That’s my ability.
I like all kinds of cheese, but I’m very difficult to please. To judge a cheese you need to be objective. You have to be able to let the flavor of the cheese speak to you. Sometimes we let the story get ahead of the flavor. You have to taste it once, then a second time, then go back for the third time. You must do it slowly to catch the nuances of a cheese.
The power of the market here is very strong. Whereas in Europe a cheesemaker can say, “This is how it’s been done for a hundred years; this is how you have to eat a cheese,” in the United States you can’t do that. Customer preference and feedback are critical.