The following story was written by Heinen’s partner Elaine T. Cicora.
When it comes to bringing fine Italian cheese to Heinen’s customers, Giacomo Veraldi is all about tradition.
“We don’t want to just sell cheese,” insists Giacomo, CEO and chief brand champion for Ambrosi Food USA, the American outpost of Ambrosi Group, an iconic Italian producer and exporter of artisanal cheeses since 1942. “The cheese we offer has to be authentic. We don’t use nontraditional methods to extend the shelf life; we don’t take shortcuts to be able to make a sale. We want the authentic product – the very same cheese that my mother buys in Italy!”
It is that commitment to authenticity that has made Ambrosi a trusted vendor and partner for Heinen’s for the past 10 years. Available in the Specialty Cheese Department as Heinen’s 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano, this cheese has proved to be delicious, versatile and consistently popular with Heinen’s shoppers.
One of Italy’s most venerable hard cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano is often called “the king of cheese,” both for its ancient history and its multitude of uses. As tradition dictates, Heinen’s Parmigiano-Reggiano is made only with raw, whole cows’ milk from the area surrounding Parma, Italy, and is aged for two full years before being shipped to Ambrosi’s warehouse in Manhattan and then onto the stores. As a PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) product, the cheese carries the promise that its entire production has been closely controlled in terms of ingredients, sources and processes.
The resulting cheese offers an intriguing balance of salty/sharp flavors and creamy dairy richness, with a firm texture featuring a slight crystalline crunch. (Those crystals are tyrosine, an amino acid that is a desirable, natural byproduct of aging.) All of which make Parmigiano Reggiano an incredibly versatile choice for uses ranging from pasta garnish to straight-up snacking. “That’s how ‘the king of cheese’ got its crown,” says Zack Pass, National Director of Sales for Ambrosi Food USA. “This is a cheese that can serve as an ingredient in many, many dishes, but can also stand alone on a plate. And as people have become more tuned into fine foods and artisanal products, its popularity has only grown.”
It is also rich in calcium and protein, with each pound of cheese representing 2.5 gallons of whole milk. And surprisingly, the cheese is naturally lactose free. “Removing lactose is not a mechanical process,” says Giacomo. “Lactose naturally disappears during aging – by 12 months it is mostly gone – which makes our Parmigiano Reggiano a good cheese for everyone. In Italy, in fact, even our babies eat it!”
While there are many sources of Italian products in the U.S today, Ambrosi is distinguished by a several additional factors.
First, the family-owned-and-operated company boasts a long history, dating back to 1942, when founder and WWII pilot Ottorini Ambrosi returned from war and began making butter. From there, the business grew to include sourcing and aging both Grana and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. An international growth strategy was launched in the 1990s, under Ottorini’s son, Giuseppe Ambrosi; the company entered the United States market in 2006. Today, Ambrosi exports traditional Italian cheeses to more than 65 countries, bringing more than 35 different types of PDO cheeses into the U.S. alone.
While the company has long purchased their milk from other family-owned-and-operated creameries – “we have historical relationships with our creameries going back 50 years,” says Zack –Ambrosi now owns and controls all ingredients used and every step in the process.
This is another important distinction, says Zack: “We are not just importers; we are the actual producers. While many of our competitors are focused on simply bringing in product, we differ from that. Our supply chain is fully transparent, and we can trace all our cheeses back to their source. We know where our milk comes from. We know where our cheese comes from. When people buy from us, they are buying directly from the farmers and the producers who create the product.”
“We are very proud of the fact that we control all the steps – from the land to the grocers’ shelves,” Giacomo adds. “Speaking with us is like speaking directly to the cheesemaker. That makes us unique.”
This highly integrated system carries another important benefit, according to Giacomo. “We are not just selling cheese,” he says. “We are keeping tradition alive.”
After all, he says, the life of a rural Italian farmer and cheesemaker can be labor intensive and rife with challenges. “The farmers love what they do, but it can be a tough way to make a living. If they can’t sell their cheeses, they will have to stop making it, and that way of life will be lost. We do not want that; we want them to keep their traditions alive. By insisting upon traditional methods and makers, we may sell less cheese. But it is a more authentic product.
“And that really is our mission.”
That mission also makes Heinen’s the ideal partner for Ambrosi.
“We knew we wanted to partner with Heinen’s from the first time we met them,” says Giacomo. “They are a retailer where you want your products to be in the forefront.”
Heinen’s customers care about their food and where it comes from, says Zack. “And what is really cool is that the knowledge flows from the top down!” he adds. “Heinen’s takes the time to educate their customers, to help them know their producer, to know their product and to truly appreciate quality. They have knowledgeable people behind the cheese case who are there to help – and that sets them apart, too!
“We also know that Heinen’s accepts nothing less than excellence from their suppliers,” says Giacomo. “And that’s another value we share: We will not deliver any cheese that is not excellent.
“In every region of the United States,” he concludes, “there are a handful of retailers where you share a passion for excellence and a commitment to quality.
“Those are the places we want our products to be. And in Ohio, that’s Heinen’s.”
Find Heinen’s 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano – grated, shredded or in wedges – in the Specialty Cheese Department of your favorite Heinen’s location.