Wine & Cheese: A Romance Made in New Jersey
There are few culinary pairings better than wine and cheese. When enjoyed together, they bring out the subtle notes and complimentary flavors in one another to enhance the sensory experience. Whether it’s a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with aged gouda, an earthy Pinot noir with Vermont Sharp Cheddar, or a sweet Moscato with spicy Pepper Jack, it’s an indulgence that dances over the tongue and delights the palate. Many renowned, family-owned wineries and cheese companies call New Jersey home, and are bolstering the State’s economy with their delicate craft and business acumen. Here we celebrate wine and cheesemaking as a balance of science and art, and highlight two New Jersey businesses, Laurita Winery and Schuman Cheese, that are at the forefront of their respective industries.
New Jersey’s unique soil, climate and topography has made it one of the best wine growing regions in the country. The Garden State has over 40 wineries and is the 7th largest wine producing state in the country. Laurita Winery, tucked away in New Egypt in Ocean County, NJ, and part of the Outer Coastal Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area), is one of the largest and most popular wineries in New Jersey.
Laurita Winery had a rather unconventional start. The winery sits on a former dairy farm. When the property was up for sale in 1986, Ray Shea, a real estate attorney representing a client interested in the land, decided to buy the property himself after the deal fell through. Recalling what he learned in a Rutgers University winemaking class, Ray saw the potential in the sandy soil and ideal weather conditions, and involved his business partner, Randy Johnson, in the endeavor. After taking the necessary time to plant acres of vines, construct buildings and install industrial equipment, Laurita opened to the public in 2008. Today, Randy and Ray are seeing their hard work and investment pay off, with their families deeply involved in the business.
Laurita Winery is a staple along the Jersey Shore Wine Trail. The rise in popularity of vino-tourism has been fruitful for the Garden State, attracting day-trippers, locals and tourists alike looking for new and non-traditional styles of drinks. In fact, Laurita’s decadent dairy-based “Chocolate Therapy” wine is one of the most popular pours, along with its fruit-forward Bistro red and semidry Barcelona White. Nick Opdam, Laurita’s oenologist and Vineyard Manager, believes in a hands-on approach to winemaking to preserve the integrity of the grape from harvest to bottling and carefully monitors quality control.
Laurita Winery has grown to become a Central Jersey cultural hub and premiere event destination, hosting weddings, art classes, concerts, movie nights and food trucks throughout the year. The winery’s 250 acres of eco-sustainable, sprawling farmland and rolling hills showcases the beauty of the Garden State, and includes a 40-acre vineyard, tasting room, marketplace, equestrian center, and The Inn at Laurita, a bed and breakfast. Laurita’s beverage retail, paired with its hospitality and entertainment offerings, has a significant economic impact on the region. While Laurita Winery’s success is hinged upon the taste and quality of its wine, it also demonstrates how expanding on the wine tasting experience can be beneficial for the company and community alike.
Starting out as a modest Italian cheese importer in New York City in 1945, Arthur Schuman and his two sons laid the groundwork for an award-winning, family-owned company that has been sustainable for four generations. Today, Schuman Cheese is one of the most profitable privately-owned businesses in New Jersey, is the largest U.S. importer of Italian cheeses, and is a leader among the 1,900 food manufacturing companies that call the Garden State home.
Schuman Cheese’s corporate headquarters, customer service office and processing plant are in Fairfield, New Jersey. A move to New Jersey in the late 1990s has been advantageous for the company because it is more convenient for importing cheeses to the States from Europe. Proximity to the seaports and a hardworking, educated workforce has allowed Schuman Cheese to sustain and expand the business throughout the years. The family wanted to put down roots in a location where the business could afford to grow, expand and recruit people who would help them to succeed.
As a cheese importer, manufacturer and processor, Schuman Cheese hopes to enhance everyday eating experiences with the highest quality, affordable cheese. Most cheese makers are scientists that understand the chemistry behind creating a great piece of cheese (ph, protein, sugars, fat, salt, etc). However, what separates Schuman’s head cheese maker Christophe Megevand is his artistry and close connection to the product. Schuman Cheese encourages creativity to invent new cheeses, play with cultures and put their unique stamp on the products they create. As a result, the company creates authentic cheeses that have deep-rooted histories in thousand-year-old traditions, while mixing modern-day techniques with new world culture programs to get the most out of their milk and cheese.
Furthermore, Schuman’s Innovation Team is constantly keeping an eye on the market trends. The company stays ahead of the competition and on top of consumer insights, whether it be adventurous flavors or packaging innovation. The company is also creating organic and non-GMO offerings to make sure that they are responding to the consumer needs for more transparency and certifications on dairy products.
At Schuman Cheese, it’s easy to see the passion for cheese is contagious. Neal Schuman, a third-generation family member and the current CEO, credits the family’s strong entrepreneurial, risk-tasking spirit as a major factor to the company’s success. In fact, Neal was recently awarded a national accolade—EY’s Family Business Entrepreneur of the Year for 2017— recognizing his vision, the company’s impressive growth and underscoring New Jersey as an ideal location for food companies to thrive.