• Franciscan friars started making a mild white cheese in Monterey, California, in the 1800s. The cheese was marketed by David Jacks and became known as “Jack’s cheese” before morphing into Monterey Jack.
Mozzarella is an Italian cheese originally made in Naples area. The word “mozzarella” started out as the Latin word “mutius” meaning “blunt” or “cut off” presumably because the cheese was formed into rolls that were bluntly whacked off into portions. The word “mutius” also gave us the words “mute” and “mutilate.” When the word passed into Italian, it became “mozza” and the diminutive form of the word was “mozzarella.”
James Leprino has been on the Forbes list of billionaires for more than a decade, one of the few billionaires that nobody’s heard of. His company, Leprino Foods, is a firm that nobody’s heard of. James Leprino is the Cheese King, and he built Leprino Foods from scratch.
It all started when James Leprino’s father, Mike Leprino Sr., left his native Italy in 1914 at the age of 16. He became a farmer in the Denver area. In the 1950s he opened a grocery store to sell his produce and eventually added Italian specialties including various cheeses and mozzarella balls.
James Leprino couldn’t help but notice that most of his friends and classmates tended to hang out at pizza joints after school and on weekends. After he graduated from high school in 1956, James went to work for his dad in the family grocery store. In 1958, chain supermarkets forced them to close. By then, James had discovered that pizza shops in the Denver area were buying over 5,000 pounds of mozzarella every week.
James Leprino started his mozzarella empire with $615. In just a short two years, Leprino Foods was selling 200 pounds of mozzarella every single week to Italian restaurants in the Denver area. From there, things just kept expanding.
Leprino’s timing was perfect. In 1958, the first Pizza Hut opened followed by Little Caesars in 1959. Little Caesars was soon expanding by 25% each year. In 1960 the first Domino’s launched. After pioneering pizza delivery, Domino’s expanded from 200 outlets in 1978 to 5,000 in 1989. In 1985 Papa John’s opened for business.
In 1968 Leprino Foods began selling pre-sliced blocks of mozzarella so that pizza-makers could lay a few slices onto each pie rather than shred cheese. They invented new uses for whey and lactose. The company developed a preservative mist and invented flavored cheeses. They cut down the aging process from 14 days to just four hours, cutting costs. Soon Leprino Foods was selling 2 million pounds of cheese a week.
At times the company has controlled as much as 85% of the market for pizza cheese, selling to Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars. The specialization has allowed Leprino to invest in niche technology resulting in over 50 patents.
The company also provides the cheese for take-and-bake pizzas, cheesy Hot Pockets, and Stouffer’s lasagna. They provide lactose and whey powders for protein bars, Yoplait yogurt, baby formula, and even Pillsbury Toaster Strudel. In 60 years of business, there has never been a product recall.
Leprino Foods is the world’s largest mozzarella company, selling more than a billion pounds of cheese a year and bringing in over $3 billion in revenue.
They purchase 7% of the total available milk in the U.S. in order to supply mozzarella for most of America’s pizzas. The entire milk production of about one out of every 20 cows is devoted to mozzarella for pizza.