Arthur Schuman started Schuman Cheese over 75 years ago. Since then, the company has become the largest importer of Italian cheese in the country, and it made New Jersey its home in the 1970s.
Now Arthur’s great-granddaughter, Allison Schuman, her brothers, father, and an extended family of cheese masters continue the ancestral business out of Fairfield.
“It can be a challenge working with family,” Allison says with a laugh. “But it’s something so special. The pros definitely outweigh the cons.”
As the chief business development officer, Allison manages the marketing and retail sales teams. She and her brothers, Keith and Ian, are part of a fourth generation that works to continue their great-grandfather’s legacy.
“All of us are really passionate about the business,” Allison says. “We want to be here to help it grow and get to that fifth and sixth generation.”
Did you always know you wanted to be involved in the family business?
Allison Schuman: I didn’t always know that I wanted to go into the family business. In fact, there was a period of time when I thought I wanted to be a doctor. Then I quickly realized after interning somewhere that I’m not great with blood! My dad did a great job of saying to us, “I don’t want you to join the business unless you absolutely want to be in the business.” It motivated us to do a little soul searching before joining the business and making that commitment.
Tell me about the history of Schuman Cheese and how you got to New Jersey.
My great-grandfather Arthur and another Italian gentleman started the business over 75 years ago in New York. He handled the cheese side of things while the other gentleman did all of the Italian goods. My great-grandfather went over to Italy before a lot of people were doing this and met with cheesemakers and figured out who would be best to form relationships with. We still have those relationships and do business four generations later with the same people he identified back then.
My grandfather moved from New York to New Jersey and we’ve been here ever since. Probably around 40-plus years our company has been in New Jersey.
Did each generation bring something new to the table?
We started as importers and brought cheese over from Italy. Over the years, every generation has done something a little bit different. My grandfather went to South America to teach cheesemaking and would import cheeses into the U.S. from there. My dad went to Poland for a bit to build a cheese facility. Eventually, we decided to really focus on making cheese in the U.S.
Why did you decide to develop other brands?
Originally we were called Arthur Schuman Incorporated, but in the late 2000s rebranded to Schuman Cheese. The reason we did that was to pay homage not just to my great grandfather, but my grandfather, my dad and all the generations involved. Our other brands, whether it’s Bella Rosa or Cello, we feel that they allow us to play in different areas. Vevan is a new plant-based brand, there’s a new dessert platform coming, so it lets us have all these other exciting endeavors under our corporate brand of Schuman Cheese.
Tell me about your Cello brand.
Cello takes premium, high-end cheeses and makes them very approachable to the consumer. My favorite cheese is our Copper Kettle Cheese, which is a Parmesan cheese. Traditional Parmesan cheeses imported from Italy are made in a traditional copper vat. It gives the cheese a unique flavor. You get some crushed apple, apricot notes, and the cheese comes out so beautifully. We’re the only company in the United States that uses a copper vat for Parmesan-type cheeses.
New Jersey was recently named one of the most vegan-friendly states in the country. Why did your brand want to dive into plant-based foods?
It’s a project being led by my younger brother Keith. If you were to look at grocery stores 10 years ago, there weren’t a ton of plant-based options. We felt like no one really cracked that code in the plant-based cheese industry yet. I think we did an amazing job of having something that tastes exactly like cheese without the dairy.
How many family members work at Schuman Cheese?
My father is the CEO and we have the three of us [Allison and her two brothers] in the business. We also have some cousins that work on the export side of things, my dad’s sister and her daughter and son-in-law. There’s around seven of us still operating the business. It’s so exciting working in a family business.
What’s it like growing something your great-grandfather started?
Working anywhere is fun, but when you have that sense of tradition, it drives you a different way. There is so much history and hard work that has gone into the past generations before you that there’s an excitement to push boundaries and get it to those next generations. That’s the beauty of working for something that’s been built by your family.