Salerno Dairy Products Limited: When Only the Best Will Do

Every reputable chef or dedicated foodie will tell you that the importance of using quality products during the food preparation process can never be emphasized enough. Skimping on even one of the ingredients in a meal can disastrously transform your dish. For recipes that require cheese or dairy products, chefs and homeowners across Canada have come to rely on products produced by Salerno Dairy Products Limited (Salerno) in Hamilton, Ontario, because of its reputation for producing the best cheeses in the region.

Salerno was founded in 1962. Through the hard work and dedication of master cheese maker Carmine Marzaro and his closest family and friends, Salerno has become synonymous with creating high quality traditional Italian cheeses. In addition to manufacturing a multitude of delectable cheeses, Salerno is dedicated to bringing fine dairy products and specialty cheeses from around the globe to your table.

Sebastian Cortina, Carmine’s grandson and marketing supervisor at Salerno, outlines how the company got its start, “Carmine learned his trade in a small town in Italy, Sassano Salerno, and it was authentic Italian cheese makers who helped him master his craft. When he immigrated to Canada, Carmine started working for a cheese company, but soon discovered he knew more than his employers.”

Work at 3:00 AM Every Day

Carmine set up shop with his family in a small garage-type building in Hamilton. Carmine woke up at 3:00 AM every day because that’s when the milk was delivered back then. The cheeses would be made and Carmine would sell them at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market and through local distributors. “There wasn’t much Italian cheese around then, just cheddar,” Anna, Carmine’s eldest daughter, was quoted as saying.

Carmine’s brothers-in-laws started sales and distribution for the company throughout the Hamilton and Niagara regions. There were no pre-sales back then, so the product had to be sold on the spot. Eventually sales evolved to what it is today with many Salerno sales representatives catering to the Greater Toronto areas as well.

Carmine had to overcome significant odds to get his business off of the ground. According to Cortina, Carmine had to learn the English language and business practices in Canada because he did all of his schooling and his apprenticeship in Italy. But Carmine shrugged off those obstacles to produce the best authentic Italian cheeses, which are still currently being made in Salerno’s plant today. Cheeses such as caciocavallo, bocconcini, trecce, romanello and crotonese are still made in the same artisanal way Carmine made them 50 years ago. The master cheese maker whom Carmine handed his cheese making skills to is his son-in-law, Angelo Fidanza. Angelo has since taken over what Carmine and his wife, Marianna, started and evolved cheese production to what it is today.

Nowadays, Salerno is the only cheese maker left in Hamilton, and it makes over 47 different products in-house: mozzarella, ricotta, provolone, mascarpone, grated hard cheese, goat and sheep’s milk cheese just to name a few. Salerno also imports and distributes cheeses and other foods from around the world to sell directly to major chain stores, pizzerias and restaurants.

Continues as a Family-owned Company

Today, the company is headed by Marianna Marzaro and daughters, Anna Fidanza and Barbara Cortina. Currently, both sisters enjoy the companionship within the large number of relatives and friends who make up a portion of the company’s 180 employees. Throughout the years, Salerno has also expanded its presence across Canada, as the company work hand in hand with some of the nation’s largest distributors and negotiated contracts with industry giants Sysco and Costco, in order to distribute products all across the country.

The company processes and packages all of its cheeses at its facility in Hamilton, but has also expanded to a second location used primarily for distribution in Montreal. According to Marzaro’s daughters, the company’s growth has been explosive in recent years and recently acquired land to accommodate another expansion of Salerno’s packaging facility.

Cortina explains why he feels the company has been increasingly successful over the years, “We are a third-generation family-owned company, and we’ve been here for 50 years. With that said, there’s a lot of care that gets put into the end product. We care about our customers and what they say about our company. Because we’re smaller, we can cater to them a little more than your big-box vendors. We field questions and we’re happy to listen to their suggestions about how we can improve their experience with us. It doesn’t require a tremendous amount of effort on their part to reach someone at the top.”

Cortina continues to say that another one of the company’s strengths is its willingness to try new things. “We’re constantly trying different angles. We have a research and development division that tries new ideas and holds taste testing’s to try out new products. We put our focus on constantly striving to be better, and that’s what helps us stay near the top.”

Because of the company’s attention to customer service coupled with high-quality products, Salerno has developed an extremely loyal base of customers over the years. “We have customers that have been with us for over 25 years and some close to 50 years,” boasts Cortina. “They know they’re getting top quality products at fair prices and they want to deal with us because of that. It drives our business as well. If you put your best foot forward, people see that and respect it. They come to you instead of you having to go out and meet them,” he continues.

The company serves clients in retail, wholesale and in direct sales, in which it offers an array of not only cheeses, but other dairy products and retail goods as well. However, with regards to certain cheeses Cortina says, “Salerno has mastered the art of making ricotta and mascarpone to be one of the best across the country.”

HACCP Recognition Since 2006

It’s easy to make a claim like that when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has recognized Salerno’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) every year since 2006. Salerno’s management team both developed and implemented the plan, which is recognized by the CFIA to Canadian companies that have passed a rigorous auditing process to ensure that products are 100 percent safe, and only the best of quality before reaching the marketplace. Salerno is now working towards an even higher standard than HACCP, SQF2000 Level 2, which is to be completed July 2012.
“We closely monitor what comes in and goes out in order to remain HACCP approved,” adds Cortina. “Quality and safety is the number one priority of every employee at Salerno. We maintain a quality control laboratory and facility on premise to ensure that nothing leaves this building without being tested first.”

The company’s products can be found locally in supermarkets and grocery stores such as: Fortino’s, Sobey’s, Metro and Zehrs. “Our retail operation is a nice way to get our name out there, but it’s nice to know that our partnerships with our large wholesalers and further processors who are getting our products to consumers who would otherwise never have found out about us,” says Cortina.

The Marzaro daughters ensure that Salerno gives back to the community that has made the company a success over the years. Salerno sponsors local youth sports programs and proudly participates in a program designed to help the environment. In the summer months, Salerno powers down all non-essential equipment for one hour each day, which increases energy consumption awareness throughout the community.

Cortina is excited about Salerno’s future in the industry. “I’d like to see our growth continue the way it has. Business has been very good and demand is spectacular. We’ll develop new cheeses with Marzaro-family spin on them, which will leave customers wanting more.”

It’s every entrepreneur’s dream to provide a better way of life for their children and future generations, and no one perhaps embraced that dream stronger than Carmine. He overcame tremendous odds and not only succeeded at fulfilling his dream, but he was lucky enough to do it by doing something he loved: making cheese.

Carmine Marzaro’s dream to make delectable cheeses and to boast the Salerno name around the world is being fulfilled in every aspect by his daughters, son-in-laws and grandchildren; but always with the help of Salerno’s many loyal and hardworking employees. Some of whom have been with the company for up to 40 years, working every step of the way with the Salerno family to make Salerno Dairy Products Limited the company it is today, and ensure success far into the future.