David and Rynn Caputo left jobs in the pharmaceutical and health care industry in favor of a path that led to the opening of York County-based Caputo Brothers Creamery in summer 2011.
The enterprise produces a cheese curd called cagliata that is frozen and sent to restaurants and other customers. They mix it with warm water and stretch it into shape to finish the cheese-making process for fresh mozzarella. Another cagliata becomes Italian fondue.
"The most common thing we hear from people is, 'When I buy mozzarella at the store, it doesn't taste like anything,'" co-owner David Caputo said. "Our cheese actually has flavor to it."
Caputo Brothers also makes ricotta cheese — which is in high demand and profitable — from the whey left over from producing cagliata, Caputo said.
Caputo Brothers can sell as much of the ricotta as it can make, but production is generally limited by the amount of cagliata the business makes.
In addition, the business has plans for a provolone cheese, which is more or less aged mozzarella, Caputo said.
Demand has proven there is a market for the artisan products.
The business has gone from making an average of about 300 to 350 pounds a week to about 700 pounds per week just since around last August, Caputo said.
There's a variety and depth of flavor possible through the traditional fermentation process depending on the bacteria culture used, he said. For example, one variety can produce a tangy flavor, while another can give the cheese a buttery finish.
"You can't get that using citric acid," said Caputo, referring to another process option for making products.
Destinations for Caputo Brothers' products range from the restaurants of New York City by way of wholesalers to more direct deliveries to restaurants and other customers closer to home. There are even two chefs in Memphis that the business ships to, Caputo said.
Caputo Brothers also serves the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia markets and is just now looking south into Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The business last month delivered about 250 pounds of ricotta for a farm-to-table dinner related to the Preakness horse race in Maryland.
One of the biggest challenges going forward is growing in a way that doesn't end up putting the company out of business, Caputo said.
For example, the family business still labels boxes by hand, he said.
It would be more efficient to buy a labeling machine — but the money isn't available at this stage of the business, Caputo said.
"Kudos to anyone who has survived this and has moved on to the next level of business," Caputo said.
Cheese is a great value-added product to help bottom lines in the state's dairy industry, said Michele Gauger, membership director for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. The group has been working to help re-form a state cheese makers association.
It would be beneficial to help grow the segment of the dairy business such as by linking established producers with people who are coming in new to the enterprise, Gauger said.
The Caputos decided to set up shop in Pennsylvania because the commonwealth has better laws regarding raw milk, which is unpasteurized and advantageous for making aged cheese, Caputo said.
Ironically, the business didn't take the raw milk route anyway, he said.
For an enterprise starting out, putting product on a shelf to age just didn't make sense because the business wouldn't be able to sell anything for some time.
So the couple switched gears toward fresh cheese and then found their niche producing the cagliata for customers to finish into fresh mozzarella and have the ricotta made from the whey.
In addition to cheese, the company also offers private dinners, which are inspired by the owners' experiences in Italy, as well as culinary trips to the country, Caputo said.
Private chef events are part of the way Caputo Brothers gets the word out about its cheese.
Others include stories in local press, sales calls, knocking on doors and social media.
"Social media almost seems like it has taken the cold call and moved it to like a warm call," Caputo said. "To date, I don't think we have ever purchased a paid ad in anything, other than maybe as part of a fundraiser."
In addition, media exposure was beyond local in last month's edition of Food & Wine magazine, where Caputo Brothers was listed among its editors' top picks.
Caputo Brothers hit the point where it had to think about expanding beyond its cheese-making operations on the family property in Jackson Township.
They struck an agreement with Adams County-based Apple Valley Creamery to use space and dairy-processing equipment there for larger batches.
From the beginning, Caputo Brothers has used the East Berlin-area dairy to make its products.
The cheese makers have become Apple Valley's fourth sales channel for its milk, co-owner Don Everett said.
The others are sales to wholesale customers such as independent store owners, home deliveries to about 450 customers and the dairy's own on-site store.
It makes and sells several products itself, but cheese is not one of them.
Not only does Apple Valley sell Caputo Brothers the milk used to make its cheese, but there's also an ability to sell Caputo products to its own customers and say it's made with Apple Valley milk, Everett said.
The next product in the works for Caputo Brothers is a provolone cheese that will be made at the family's property because of the aging component, Caputo said.
And Everett is eager for the product as a new offering to his own customers.
"I give Dave a hard time every time he's here about provolone," said Everett, jokingly shouting the last part of the statement down the hallway so Caputo could hear it.
With so much focus on accomplishing the day-to-day needs of the operations, perhaps the "cloudiest" part of the vision is how far to take the business down the road, Caputo said.
Maybe the company will franchise out the model to others who will operate in other areas, or maybe it will establish a frozen trucking company to help reach a wider area of the country. Or, perhaps he and his wife will get to the point where they hit a certain capacity and just stop growing the volume.
The goal from the beginning has been to do something they are passionate about while raising their children and living a good and manageable lifestyle, Caputo said.
"So whatever road that we need to take to continue that goal is the road we are going to take," he said.
About Caputo Brothers Creamery
The long path that led to today's York County-based Caputo Brothers Creamery began with the memories co-owner David Caputo has of his Italian grandmother cooking for him when he was young.
She didn't speak much English, and the way they communicated was through food, Caputo recalled.
Fast forward to 2005, when he got married. On his honeymoon with wife and Caputo Brothers co-owner Rynn, he told her he needed a change in his career.
It just so happened that early in the trip to Tahiti, they sat for dinner next to Connecticut Italian restaurant owners. from Connecticut. Eventually, the Caputos shipped off to culinary school in Italy.
Returning home, they had visions of starting a restaurant. But the idea quickly faded with the realization of how hard restaurants are to start up and run, Caputo said.
From there, the paths they could have followed were numerous. Maybe pizza? Possibly gelato?
But soon, they visited a farmers' market in Virginia and tasted a sheep's milk cheese. It was the first food in the United States that truly made them think of Italy. From there, cheese was their path.
They bought property in Pennsylvania and moved to the Spring Grove area around the end of 2008. The business opened in July 2011 and is named for their two sons — Giovanni, 4, and Matteo, 3 — whose silhouettes are at the center of the company's logo.
About Apple Valley Creamery
Apple Valley Creamery in Adams County started in 2005 through a partnership between the families of Don Everett and Larry Stoner. The Stoner family settled on the farm in 1928.
Everett had struck a deal after college to live on the farm while he commuted to the Mechanicsburg area and worked as a certified public accountant.
Like the Caputos, who founded Caputo Brothers Creamery, he also started to think about doing something new and approached Stoner about possibly using space on the property for a fish farm.
Stoner said he probably wouldn't have space for that but floated the idea of what has become Apple Valley today, Everett recalled.