Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese opens $7.8 million plant in Petaluma
The stainless steel vats arrived from the Netherlands, the computerized operating system was purchased from Canada, the air quality system came from France and the machine that foil wraps cheese wheels was made in Germany.
The components are key parts of a new $7.8 million production and distribution facility in Petaluma for Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese. Also crucial is the plant’s size. At over 20,000 square feet, the facility offers enough room for the family-owned business to quadruple its space for aging pasteurized cheeses.
The Giacomini family, the owner, has made a name in the past 18 years for producing an award-winning, non-?pasteurized blue cheese at its farm on Tomales Bay. And with the recent completion of the Petaluma plant on Payran Street, the family is planning to double production in the next five years.
The growth is expected to be fueled largely by the sale of the company’s buttery, semi-hard Toma, which last year was named the best U.S. farmstead cheese by the American Cheese Society.
“Toma is going to pay for this plant,” said Lynn Giacomini Stray, one of three sisters who runs the business.
Petaluma has long been a processing and distribution center for milk produced on the sweeping grasslands of Sonoma and Marin counties. Before the existence of the Golden Gate Bridge, farmers brought their milk to Petaluma for shipment by boat along the Petaluma River and across the San Francisco Bay.
The city remains a center for the local dairy sector, which today features artisan cheeses and other premium products. Petaluma hosts the headquarters of Clover Sonoma, the Bay Area’s largest milk processor, as well as the operations of Straus Family Creamery, Cowgirl Creamery, Petaluma Creamery and Three Twins Ice Cream.
Clover President and CEO Marcus Benedetti said such companies “benefit from an incredible milkshed,” a dairy production region akin to a watershed.
He called Point Reyes Farmstead a case study in how dairy farmers can improve their livelihoods by making artisanal products from their milk.
“It’s an incredible story of adding value to a commodity,” Benedetti said.
Point Reyes Farmstead produces over a million pounds of cheese a year from the milk of its 450 dairy cows. The company employs about 90 workers at its new plant and at the farm and culinary center near Point Reyes Station.
The family purchased the ?720-acre farm in 1959. Robert (Bob) and Dean Giacomini ran the dairy and raised four daughters.
In 2000, the family made the leap to cheese making. The adult daughters, who had pursued different careers, all agreed to come back and help run the new business. They did so after a new wave of cheesemakers had come on the scene.
While a few producers like Marin French Cheese have long called the North Bay home, the new cheesemakers included Laura Chenel, Redwood Hill Farm and later Cowgirl Creamery. This new crop of producers proved willing guides for those seeking to join their ranks.
“It was a fortuitous time to jump into the industry,” said Diana Giacomini Hagan, Point Reyes Farmstead’s chief financial officer.
Today the North Bay includes over two dozen cheesemakers, among more than 900 such artisan or specialty producers in the U.S.
In a sign of ongoing growth, the American Cheese Society reports the number of entries in its competition have increased more than 67 percent in the past decade. And cheese remains the top category of specialty food sales, reaching $4.4 billion in 2016 with two-year growth of 12.4 percent, according to the Specialty Foods Association.
Point Reyes Farmstead grew and in 2010 started to produce other cheeses. That year it opened The Fork, a state-of-the-art kitchen and dining facility for culinary classes, tastings, dinners and other events.
Also in 2010, the Giacomini parents transferred company ownership to their daughters. Three sisters still operate the business, and the fourth, Karen Giacomini Howard, retired.
The family matriarch, Dean Giacomini, died in 2012.
In 2015, the company’s operations reached capacity. The daughters, their father and the workers all agreed it was time to expand off the farm.
“We had identified Petaluma as an ideal location to execute this growth strategy,” said Jill Giacomini Basch, the chief marketing officer.
The city’s location on Highway 101 would provide an easier distribution point than West Marin. It would offer an easier commute for most of the company’s production staff. And a processing plant in Petaluma wouldn’t be too far from the farm’s milk supply.
“We needed to be close to our source,” said Giacomini Stray, the chief operating officer.