After outlining a "happiness plan" in Post-It notes, this engineer ditched Silicon Valley to try making authentic Italian buffalo mozzarella in the U.S.
These are boom times for good software engineers. So why would a developer turn his back on Silicon Valley now?
In a word, cheese. And not just any cheese--we're talking authentic Italian buffalo mozzarella, made in the U.S.
In late 2009, Craig Ramini left the Valley and traveled 60 miles north to Tomales with a goal to recreate the soft, melt-in-your-mouth buffalo cheese that the Italians have cultivated over the last 1,000 years. The process is much harder than creating the cow’s milk mozzarella of popular string cheese brands, though, mainly because buffalo don’t produce as much milk as cows. And there’s also a water buffalo shortage in the U.S.
"The U.S. population is in borderline feral condition," Kent Underwood told The Wall Street Journal. Underwood worked on a water-buffalo dairy in Vermont that went out of business and now does consulting.
With the odds stacked against him, Ramini has marketed the heck out of his new enterprise: His company has been featured in both The New York Times Magazine and the Journal--and he hasn't even sold a piece of cheese yet.
“Ramini admits to having the classic Silicon Valley personality--Type A, obsessive, self-promoting--and this has not always gone over well with the laid-back, lower-profile, communally spirited artisanal cheese makers in the Bay Area,” Sam Anderson writes of Ramini in the Times.
The 50-something East Coast native has worked tirelessly with cheese aficionados from all over the world to master the process of creating a delicacy deeply rooted in the Italian tradition.
His goals, typical to the Silicon Valley mindset, are lofty. Ramini plans to fill a 79-gallon vat with buffalo milk every day (Ramini is only taking in 60-gallons of milk a week currently). He'll sell cheese directly to consumers and restaurants. By cutting out the middleman and selling the cheese for $35 per pound, Ramini projects a yearly income of $1.5 million.
“I haven’t met a cheese maker yet who says, ‘That’s a brilliant idea,’” Ramini told the Times. “Tuning out part of the community was not in my business plan. It’s an unforeseen challenge.”
After investing $350,000 on the venture, Ramini Mozarella now includes 44 water buffalo on a 25-acre farm. Ramini hopes to provide his cheese to the foodies in San Francisco and the surrounding areas that are knocking on his door.
iI’s taken Ramini nearly two years to even attempt to produce a taste-testable product, but perhaps that's a good thing. Patience is one thing Ramini must apply to this venture in order to succeed--and it doesn't come naturally to him.
"If I've learned one thing it's that you can't rush these animals," Ramini told the Journal. "They're in charge of making decisions."
MAEGHAN OUIMET is a business and culture reporter whose work has appeared in Boston Magazine and Rolling Stone. She covers technology start-ups and innovations from the San Francisco bureau for Inc.com. @MaeghanO