Between new product development and maintaining food safety, Milano’s Cheese Co. prides itself on training, training and more training.

Marina Mayer
Executive  Editor

In 1983, when Joseph Falcone purchased JVM Sales Corp., it was nothing more than a mom-and-pop cheesemaker that produced Italian hard cheeses for foodservice accounts.

“One of the biggest challenges on the sales and marketing side is really letting people know that we’re here, that we’re a company who’s been around for a long time but [no one] doesn’t really know about,” says Anthony Caliendo, vice president of sales and marketing for Milano’s Cheese Co., the doing-business-as name for JVM Sales.

Today, the $40 million family-owned and operated company employs approximately 250 people and pumps out close to 400,000 pounds of grated, shredded and shaved Parmesan, Romano and Asiago cheeses from its 75,000-square-foot facility in Linden, N.J.

But, the secret behind Milano’s success isn’t its story, its quality products or its redesigned packaging concepts (see “Diamond in the Rough” on page 63). Milano’s hires quality people who bring passion and loyalty to each and every order.

“We’ve always been proactive in the food safety department. I have a fantastic staff under me that follows through on everything,” says Marybeth Tomasino, Falcone’s daughter and the chief executive officer and treasurer. “JVM’s middle name is training.”

Through continuous training, Milano’s has been able to stack up an impressive list of credentials. For example, in May 2010, it passed the Silliker Good Manufacturing Practices audit, and just one month later, received approval for food establishment for the U.S. Military Armed Forces Procurement. Then, in October 2010, Milano’s received SQF 2000, Level 2 certification and is vying to obtain Level 3 in the fall. The plant also underwent HACCP certification.

It also trains on an assortment of other programs, including but not limited to, lock-out/tag-out, metal detection, warehouse, forklift, food security, pest control, pallets and more.

The Milano’s facility undergoes a makeover about every six months, whether it’s adding a new line or enhancing a piece of machinery. Today, the Milano’s production site is fully automated, cutting production down from three shifts, six days a week to two shifts, five days a week, with the second shift being a skeleton crew. Cleaning and sanitation are carried out after both shifts are shut down for the week. It also conducts two mock recalls a year, once during business hours and once after.

“What we’ve been focusing on for the past three years was automating, so we have fewer hands in the product,” Tomasino says. “So, we generated a new line that would go across the room along the ceiling in vibratory conveyors to add room to our new packaging line and a new sheeter line with 12 scales. Then we invested in a new line that would take it directly from the packaging area through an X-ray machine that we just purchased a year ago. I’m also putting up a wall right now to enclose the new packaging line to insert a new refrigerated cooler and a new finished product cooler extension.”

Operating autonomously

At the time of Dairy Foods visit, Milano’s was churning out Romano cheese for its retail customers.

Cheese comes in from various domestic and imported suppliers in wheel forms (in a multitude of sizes), which are sliced in halves and then sent through a bowl chopper, which is actually a buffalo chopper used to chop up buffalo. While in the chopper, which holds 500 pounds of mix, operators add an anti-caking blend to protect the product.

The chopped-up cheese then exits through a screw conveyor into a sheeter, which pushes product up the bucket elevator and into the 50-foot zig-zagged vibratory conveyor that aligns the ceiling. The conveyors travel through the wall and feed into a scaler, then a hopper and then down into pre-set bags in the packaging area. (The actual processing of the cheese is a proprietary process; therefore Milano’s didn’t comment further).

All product goes through the newly installed X-ray machine. Operators calibrate the machine four times a day alongside a metal detection check, also four times a day.

If product doesn’t pass the test, Tomasino says, the belt drops down into a bucket and empties the remainder of that line’s product. Then, the product runs through the line again. Should the product still not pass, the entire line’s product is dumped and analyzed by a metal agent to determine what foreign objects entered the line and at what phase.

Once the product passes through the X-ray system, it travels into a 100-foot swivel conveyor that zig zags through the packaging room. Product enters the filling line where it dumps into jars, bags or containers, then travels through a second metal detection unit and around into the capper station. Once the container is capped, it enters the labeler and into the casepacker before being manually palletized and shipped out through one of the company’s four docking stations.

There are three batch dryers (a continuous dryer is in the installation phase) that are equipped with a vacuum that sucks out the cheese from the dehydraters and sends it through the piping system. Each batch dryer hold 1,000 pounds of product and is turned over every 20 minutes.

Aside from its credentials and automated facility, Milano’s also prides itself in continuous testing through its in-house laboratory, which scans for salmonella, listeria, yeast, mold, moisture and more. All incoming raw materials and outgoing orders are tested every day, all day.

Milano’s also conducts monthly environmental swabs and a weekly aerobic plate count to test for micro-organisms and spoilage. Additionally, Milano’s invested in an accupoint machine to ensure that cleaning and sanitation are being carried out correctly.

“One of our big niches is the ability to custom blend by taking an existing product, formulate it, match it and then try to give them a better price on the foodservice end,” Caliendo says.

Good thing Milano’s has the credentials and the diligence to maintain its training streak.  

AT a glance

JVM Sales Corp., dba Milano’s Cheese Co.

Location: Linden, N.Y.

Year Opened: 1975

Sales: $40 million

Size: 75,000 square feet

Employees: 250

Brands: Milano’s

Products: Italian hard cheese, such as Parmesan, Romano and Asiago

Total processing capacity: Two shifts, five days a week, not even at full capacity.

Pasteurization type: None. Everything comes in pasteurized.

No. of filling lines: Five

No. of packaging lines: Five

No. of SKUs: 10

Storage capacity: Three coolers, with a new continuous cooler to be installed.

Distribution range: Foodservice accounts (75%), ingredient users (24%) and retail outlets (1%).