SAY CHEESE: MANTECA SET TO BECOME INTERNATIONAL ARTISAN CHEESE HUB
Glen & Cellar — a premium natural food products firm headquartered in Ireland’s Tipperary County — has selected Manteca as its base to break into the United States market. The venture represents a co-op of Ireland artisan cheese producers that has been working for the past 2½ years with City of Manteca Economic Development Manager Don Smail to distribute its products to American consumers.
The lure of Manteca is three-fold. *Manteca had a shuttered cheese factory with an expansive area in place to store and age up to 1,600 pallets of cheese wheels. *It is midway between Seattle and San Diego just off Interstate 5 that serves one of their four targeted American regional markets. *It is close to a point of entry via the Port of Oakland.
Glen & Cellar is taking what could be a four phased approach. The first test shipment arrived Thursday night at San Francisco International Airport. It cleared customs and initially was shipped to Sunnvalley Meats due to the need of an established American firm to receive the goods. The company is now distributing samples to potential retail vendors as well as a number of ecommerce sites. It already has a deal in place with igourmet.com — a high price point specialty gourmet food website. Glen & Cellar cheese will soon be available via that site. Smail said while COVID-19 issues delayed plans for the firm to break into the American market, the shift in shopping habits during the pandemic has made consumers more receptive to having food shipped to their homes.
Shipping directly to American retailers from Ireland is problematic for several reasons. First it would take weeks to do so. The other issue is the dearth of refrigerated storage in Ireland. This way once enough cheese is produced to fill a temperature controlled shipping container it starts what can be a six to eight weeks or longer journey to Oakland. Even if the cheese is delayed in route, nothing is lost as it is aging. The co-op produces more than a hundred varieties of cheese. Among the first samples being distributed are cheddar, gouda, and emmental. Glen & Cellar is also working with European producers with the goal of selling hundreds of various artisan cheese varieties produced on farms on the Continent. They deal only with producers that grass feed their cows.
As the firm ramps up its retail network that expect will include e-commerce sites as well as specialty delis, they will start shipping temperature controlled containers that can hold 22,000 pounds of cheese. They will be shipped via the Panama Canal to the Port of Oakland. They will then be taken to the former Cal Suprema Cheese plant on North Airport Way just north of Crothall Laundry Services and south of 5.11 Tactical. The cheese plant had a large refrigerator area expansion completed just before closing 15 years ago. It is large enough to hold 1,600 pallets stacked with cheese. The goal is to have the cheese age for roughly 18 months in Manteca. Then it would be cut, wrapped and shipped to customers. Given there is a 25 percent tariff on imported cheese, the company’s business plan uses the aging process to its advantage.
How it works is simple. If the cheese is 2 months old when it arrives in Oakland, it could be valued at $5 per pound. Since cheese grows in value as it ages, at 18 months it could be worth $12. Under existing law when the product is actually sold it is taxed at the value that it was when it entered the country. The Manteca location would double initially as an aging, cutting, and packaging facility as well as a West Coast distribution center to retailers. It would also supply packaged cheese to three other regional distribution centers in the country. The company hopes to eventually start making artisan cheeses in Manteca. If it does they will employ a process mandated in Ireland that eliminates the smell and prohibits the dumping of brine that creates havoc with underground water supplies due to its high salinity.
While firms such as Hilmar Cheese ship their brine to a de-salinization plant in Oakland, the Irish cheese concern has perfected a process that recycles the brine and adds what salt was lost in the cheese making process. Smail noted the brine they are using is more than 5 years old. That eliminates the odors that plagued Cam Suprema Cheese when it operated in northwest Manteca. It also Smail is hopeful that Glen & Ellen will get to a fourth phase involving retail sales from there Manteca location.