Los Banos cheesemaker ready to expand

10/15/2012 12:31 AM

10/15/2012 12:33 AM

LOS BANOS -- An area cheesemaker will begin an expansion later this year, bringing about 40 jobs to Los Banos.

Peluso Cheese, a subsidiary of Romalv Group LLC, will add 9,000 square feet to its 20,000-square-foot plant on H Street, said General Manager Ray Alvarado. About half of the square-footage of processing room will be added to the east and west ends of the building.

"We're growing very rapidly in our Mexican cheese category," Alvarado said.

The plant turns out 18,000 to 20,000 pounds of cheese daily, Alvarado said. Employees process bricks of panela, cotija, teleme and, the fastest seller, queso fresco, to name a few.

Alvarado said he is working to file the paperwork before the end of the year while fees are low. The City Council in January put a one-year moratorium on Regional Transportation Impact Fees, which are charged to commercial or industrial developers. The City Council will revisit that decision in the new year.

Alvarado said the plant has 46 employees, and will almost double its crew after Jan. 1.He said he'll be looking for people who can work in the lab, understand pasteurization, and who have other cheesemaking skills.

That could be good news for Los Banos' 16.7 percent unemployment rate.

Sales of their signature cheese, teleme, a very soft cheese similar to Monterey Jack, were stagnant, Alvarado said. The plant has done better with Mexican cheeses, he said. Before March, when he added the Mexican food topper queso fresco, the plant had 21 employees.

"We came out with a really good recipe," Alvarado said, adding that the queso fresco is outselling many of its competitors in supermarkets. "(Customers) are voting with their dollar and their palate."

Alvarado said the plant ships the Mexican cheeses out of the area, particularly to Southern California counties such as Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and others. It's carried by Bay Area chains such as Mi Pueblo Foods and La Esperanza Market, and Sacramento-based La Superior Supermercados, as well as markets in Los Banos.

The Romalv Group has two plants in Los Angeles. The Peluso Cheese plant has been around since 1917. One quaint feature from its early days is the window in the plant's front office where customers can buy cheese.

"Instead of two or three days sitting in the store," Alvarado said, "they believe it's fresher here."

Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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