Fiscalini Farmstead understands the
importance of family
The namesake family behind Fiscalini Farmstead, award-winning cheesemakers in Modesto, CA, have a storied history in the dairy industry.
Mateo Fiscalini immigrated from Switzerland and started the Fiscalini dairy in 1914 on the same piece of land that the cheese producers call home today. His son continued the dairy tradition, which was passed down to the next generation, with John Fiscalini deciding to start producing more than just fluid milk.
In 2000, a trip back to his homeland changed everything. While in Switzerland, John Fiscalini learned that his ancestors made a living from making cheese, and he decided to follow in their footsteps and begin processing cheese with a portion of the milk produced by his herd.
“His goal was to create one of the world’s best-tasting cheeses and proudly put the name ‘Fiscalini’ on it,” says John’s daughter Laura Genasci. “Using only the milk from our own herd to handcraft our artisan cheeses continues to be our tradition today.”
Back home, he meets Paraguay-born cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez, who looks to share his knowledge and craftsmanship with a producer who will appreciate his artisan style. Together, they create what is now a successfully thriving cheese company.
Today, Fiscalini Farmstead is run by John’s children, Genasci and Brian Fiscalini.
Getting Up and Running
Even with an artisan cheesemaker on board, John Fiscalini didn’t know much about the cheese business, and that led to all sorts of challenges in the beginning.
“For starters, we had no idea what we were doing so my dad took a short course on cheesemaking at Cal Poly State University,” Genasci says. “He searched neighboring facilities for used equipment and turned an old tractor shed into a two-room cheese plant.”
Trial and error, and the experience of Gonzalez led to the company’s first creation, a hard Italian-style cheese called San Joaquin Gold.
“We did not really know what we were doing when we made our first batch of cheese,” Genasci says. “We did not have all the equipment we needed; we were going in blind. We like to call San Joaquin Gold our award-winning mistake. We used a Fontina culture and still do today; however what we make is not Fontina at all. The process we use is unique, our very own family secret, if you will.”
When Gonzalez came on board, Fiscalini was so proud to have him taste the Fontina, and he immediately let him know it was good. In fact, it was great, but it was not Fontina. Still, it was a great-tasting cheese and ready to go into production.
“Once we had a cheese that was ready to sell, we faced more challenges as we had no experience with sales,” Genasci says. “Taking our cheese to market was far more difficult than we had imagined. We had successfully milked cows for 85 years, but the retail and foodservice industries were completely foreign.”
In those early days, the company was making cheese one or two days a week in a used 1,000-gallon cheese vat.
“There was one employee, and that person made cheese, handled the cut and wrap and fulfilled orders,” Genasci says. “John Fiscalini was the only person handling sales at the time. He was going into grocery stores, restaurants and doing farmers markets to get people to try the cheese. It was a very slow start and a great lesson in patience.”
Gonzalez really helped put Fiscalini Farmstead on the map for artisan cheesemaking. It soon began winning awards and became recognized in the cheese world.
“As our sales grew, we hired employees in production, packaging and sales,” Genasci says. “Our farmstead become known for the care of our cows, sustainable energy projects and great tasting cheeses.”
A Solid Reputation
The family-owned and run Fiscalini Farmstead is known in the industry as a company that cares about its land and animals. It also has a strong reputation for its sustainability efforts and producing renewable energy.
“We are known for producing great tasting cheese and as far as cheese variety goes, we are mostly known as cheddar producers,” Genasci says. “Our Old World Aged Cheddar is an English-style clothbound cheddar aged a minimum of 14 months. It is made in a 60-pound wheel and turned almost daily for the first 60 days and then quarterly until maturity is reached.”
Fiscalini Farmstead has won numerous awards for this cheese, but the title with the most notoriety is the three-time winner of the “World’s Best Extra Mature Cheddar.”
“Our hard-Italian cheese, the San Joaquin Gold, is made in 30-pound wheels and aged at least one year,” Genasci says. “This cheese has the imprint of a cow in the center, a little something that sets it apart.”
The cheese has won several gold medals at the World Cheese Awards and the American Cheese Society.
The cheesemakers also produce a Swiss-style cheese named after the village in Switzerland where the Fiscalini family is from—Lionza. And it has a line of flavored cheddars, which offer a variety of tastes to its customers; Smoked, Red-Wine soaked, Beer infused, Habanero and Truffle make its cheddars unique.
“Our products have changed over the years, but cheddar has always been at our core,” Genasci says. “We have made cheddars flavored with Garlic, Dill, Saffron, Sage and Tarragon. We made a spreadable cheddar flavored with horseradish, a real niche product, but finally decided to discontinue it because, from a profitability standpoint, it just did not make sense. We have had success with holiday-inspired cheeses like Pumpkin Spice and Cranberry Habanero. Trends are always changing. That does not mean we want to always be changing, but bringing something new to market every now and again is fun.”
A First-Class Team
In addition to the latest generation of Fiscalinis running the homestead, Genasci credits the amazing team that has helped the company thrive for so long.
“One gentleman has been with us 20 years, and we only turned 20 in November,” she says. “One of our cheesemakers is the son of our dairy manager; he’s been with us 15 years and grew up on the farm. We have very little turnover, and it’s like a family down there. Brian and I are fortunate to, at times, work side by side with everyone at the plant.”
Alex Borgo, operations manager and current master cheesemaker, does an amazing job of keeping the team motivated and on task.
“We are proud of the cheeses we produce because of the people who show up each day who believe in our process and put forth the effort to ensure quality products,” Genasci says.
The new generation of Fiscalinis still set their sights high and intend to continue to grow Fiscalini Farmstead while remaining committed to the core values set by previous generations.
“Alex Borgo and his team have us in position to do some incredible things in the near future,” Genasci says.
Brian Fiscalini, who serves as CEO of the company, notes the future will include new products, facilities and a great work environment.
“We will make new products that align with who we are,” he says. “We are farmstead, premium and delicious. Our current facilities are humble and constructed with our own hands. In the future, we will design state-of-the-art facilities that allow us to make cheese the traditional way with the highest regard for quality. We have a great team of people, and we plan to give back to them with a work experience that fosters creativity and excitement.”
He hesitates to use the word ‘success’ because Fiscalini thinks if he claims success now, then people may stop trying to achieve it.
“We have no end game in sight,” he says. “We are grateful and blessed to have dedicated employees that come to work excited about the process and detail that it takes to make great cheese. Our business goal is to continue to share our family’s story through our cheeses and sustain our farmstead for generations to come.”
And it all comes back to family and a legacy that started with ancestors in Switzerland. “We value family. We value the families of our people and the families of our customers,” Fiscalini says. “We want the table to be a place where our family can be with yours. When you buy our cheese, you are buying our story, and we are honored to be at the table with your family.”