From the North Bay Business Journal, September 3, 2018
When Tobias Giacomini left Northern Italy in 1904 for the fertile lands of California, little did he know that his search for gold would instead lead him to the riches of farming — and a family legacy that would endure for generations to come.
Four generations later, the farm has been reimagined by three of his great-granddaughters.
“None of us knew we would go into the family business,” said Jill Giacomini Basch, one of his great-granddaughters. “We were not interested in doing this at all.” Today, Giacomini Basch, along with two of her three sisters, runs the family business now known as Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Since 2000, Giacomini Basch has served as chief marketing officer, with sister Lynn Giacomini Stray serving as chief operating officer. Diana Giacomini Hagan officially came on board as chief financial officer in January 2009. The fourth sister, Karen Giacomini Howard, did work on the farm and has since retired.
After coming up empty in Gold Country, Tobias Giacomini settled in Petaluma, where he would go on to raise hundreds of chickens and a dozen cows on his farm. In 1938, one of his seven sons, Waldo Giacomini, moved from Petaluma with his wife to Point Reyes in west Marin County. The Giacomini sisters’ father, Bob Giacomini, was a baby at the time. The family stayed rooted in Point Reyes and, in 1959, Bob Giacomini and his wife, Dean, purchased a nearby dairy farm on Tomales Bay and began making milk to sell to the local creamery. By the mid-1990s, the couple was producing grade A quality milk from their herd of more than 500 cows, selling to multiple distributors, including Clover Stonetta (now Clover Sonoma), said Giacomini Basch.
In the late-1990s, Bob and Dean Giacomini sat their three youngest daughters down to discuss the future. Both were about to turn 60 years old, the dairy operation had outgrown the 720-acre property, and they decided it was time to begin the process of paring back the farm or selling the property altogether, Giacomini Basch said.
“It was a pivotal time for them, and that’s what planted the seed for all of us,” she said. “We all came back to the farm as an Act 2 in our professional lives.”
By 2000, the family had transitioned the business into an artisan farmstead cheese-making facility. The three sisters took executive roles and would share CEO responsibilities. In 2010, the Giacomini parents transferred company ownership to their daughters. Dean Giacomini passed away in 2012, and Bob Giacomini remains active in the business. Taking the reins as Farmstead’s CMO made sense for Giacomini Basch, who had married and was ready to end her marketing and advertising career in the high-tech world of Silicon Valley. “I loved what I did but on the other hand it was a grind, working 50 or 60 hours a week,” she said. “I didn’t think working to that degree was going to be conducive to starting a family.”Moving back to the farm enabled her to raise her children while building and marketing Farmstead.
“For the first six months, my sister, Lynn, and I were knocking on doors and taking meetings with retailers, chefs and distributors,” Giacomini Basch said, “and just telling our story of our history in the North Bay and raising animals using sustainable practices that resulted in the best quality milk.” It’s a strategy that she said helped with gaining trust and brand integrity, and has worked for the past 18 years. When the sisters launched Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, they chose Original Blue as their flagship product. Today, Farmstead makes a total of seven cheeses and continues to milk about 450 cows each day, Giacomini Basch said.
In 2010, the sisters launched The Fork, a culinary and educational center located on the property that offers farm tours, culinary classes and tastings to teach people about sustainable family farming and artisan cheese making. The Fork also puts on dining events hosted by its culinary team and local chefs. Cheese tastings can include pairings with a particular type of cracker, honey off the farm, different charcuteries, and/or wines and craft beers, said Giacomini Stray, who previously had a dual career selling wine and insurance.
“We will do deep dives on craft beers,” Giacomini Stray said, adding Farmstead has a partnership with Lagunitas and also recycles the brewer’s spent grain. “We feed it to our cows as part of our feed component. It’s part of their diet. The cows like it and we like it.” Farmstead also partners with multiple wineries, including Gloria Ferrer and Dry Creek Vineyards.Numerous independent retailers, such as Oliver’s and Petaluma Market, carry Farmstead’s cheeses, as well as big grocery stores like Whole Foods and Safeway.
The company prefers to work with local specialty distributors, Giacomini Stray said, because they know specialty cheese and how to properly ship it. Consumers can buy Farmstead’s cheeses and gift baskets on its website, or shop in person at the three Farmers Markets the company attends each weekend: at the San Francisco Ferry building and Oakland Grand Lake on Saturday, and Marin Civic Centers on Sundays. “The end goal is to have our cheese be accessible to the consumer, both geographically and price point,” she said. “We want to be your everyday cheese in the fridge.”
Diana Giacomini Hagan, CFO, has had a hand in the business in 2000 but didn’t officially come on board until 2009. “I had been working in finance for over 20 years and was taking some time off during the financial meltdown of 2008,” she said. “Before I began any formal job search in my old industry, Lynn asked me to help implement and convert the business from Quick Books to a new manufacturing accounting system in January 2009. Within about six weeks, it became clear that someone was needed to run the system and I never looked back from that point.” The company has been profitable for several years, with annual gross sales of more than $10 million, said Giacomini Hagan. “We have been fortunate to finance much of our growth from cash flow, until the expansion into Petaluma,” she said, referring to its recently opened cheese-processing facility. “For the building purchase and subsequent construction, we have utilized bank financing.”
In July, the family opened its $7.8 million processing plant in Petaluma, the result of a plan the family put into place in 2015 when the Point Reyes processing operations reached capacity, according to the Press Democrat. The company employs a total of 80, and whether or not any of the sisters’ children signs on in the future remains to be seen.