The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Fiscalini Cheese Co.

Fiscalini Cheese Co.


May 25, 2009

As the first commercial dairy farm in the United States to receive animal welfare certification, the Fiscalini Cheese Company has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to the humane treatment of the animals used to make their products. Founded in Modesto, California in 1914, Fiscalini Farms was also among the first dairies in the state to be certified by the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program for environmental responsibility.

Now, Fiscalini is making headlines again for its new methane conversion unit. Once completed, the generated electricity from this renewable energy system will be sufficient to power both the dairy barn and 88,000 square foot cheese plant – with enough leftover to roll into the community grid. We talked to owner and founder John Fiscalini about the challenges of merging technology with a reverence for the land and cows. 

How have you been able to combine the creation of milk and cheese with sustainable business practices?

We have tried to be sustainable long before the term was widely used. I grew up in the 50's with parents that went through the depression. They wanted to be as self sufficient as possible, and threw away nothing that could possibly be re-used. Our dairy farm was practicing recycling techniques before the word was invented in the 1960's. When I started the cheese company in 2000, I continued with the same business management practices that I grew up with.

You are in the process of creating a methane digester to help reduce the farm’s carbon footprint. How does it work and what are the benefits?

The methane digester will have the ability to take multiple sources of "waste material" and transform them into electricity that we can use and sell, into a better fertilizer for our crops, and into a compost-like material. When fully functional, we expect to reduce greenhouse gases, enhance crop production while maintaining or reducing potential water "contamination,” and use off-site materials that would otherwise be sent to landfills. We plan to have enough renewable energy to power our entire farm.

In addition, we will capture the heat from the engine that makes the electricity, and use that excess heat to heat the two-digester tanks to 101 degrees Fahrenheit. We should also be able to pre-heat water for sanitizing our dairy barn and cheese plant. In addition, we will eventually use additional heat to pasteurize milk for our baby calves, and to entirely heat the cheese plant needs (i.e. the vats and pasteurizer). 
What other plans do you have for saving energy?

In addition to the digester, we are moving towards no-till farming, where we expect to make fewer trips through the fields, compact the soil less, and therefore use less fuel and labor to achieve the same or better results. We have done test plots for a year and a half, and are moving all our acreage towards this practice.

How is a farmstead operation unique from other dairy operations?

Farmstead cheese is similar to estate wine, where the grapes are grown on winery property with the same ownership and management. Our cow and cheese operation are both on site and managed by the same family. In essence, we can control everything about the milk quality, which greatly affects the final cheese product.
How does your “cow comfort” philosophy affect how you run your business?

Cow comfort is practiced daily on our farm. All our employees are trained to take the utmost care of our animals as the animals are responsible for our livelihoods.  Once the employees understand this simple concept, they buy in completely. We have a no-strike policy that is absolute. Our herd of registered black and white Holsteins are given the freedom to roam in large lots when the weather is good, and their stalls are raked twice daily to maximize comfort. We treat our cows right.

How can you serve as a model for other dairy operations?

We encourage other dairy farmers to watch and visit our operation. We are just trying to do as many of the “right" things as best we can. All farmers are environmentalists and we all need natural resources to run our businesses. We realize that the consumer votes with their wallets on how they want their food produced. Since I sell my product directly to the consumer, I want to position myself as the ultimate source for the consumer that really cares about food production. As the industry moves in that direction, I hope to be able to help my peers get to that point quickly.

What can retailers learn from your success?

I hope that retailers will continue to tell consumers about food production methods, and suggest that they buy products like ours to help the planet. I hope that the public can see what possibilities there are in agriculture as a source of energy as well as food and fiber. I also hope that the retailers and the public realize that these practices are not free. Creating renewable energy costs money and adds cost to the retail products we provide, however, the longer terms benefits of sustainable production are priceless.

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with companies that are taking innovative steps toward the creation of sustainable products and services. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing please contact Allison Bloom at