During World War I, it was virtually impossible to find Parmesan cheese in American markets.
In 1931, Gaetano Vella, known to friends as Tom, developed a wonderful Dry Monterey Jack cheese, which was marketed as a Parmesan substitute. His Vella Cheese Co. was located in the northern California town of Sonoma.
Vella’s son, Ignazio (better known as Ig), not only took over the family business during the 1980s, he took it to a whole new level. In 2006, he received a lifetime achievement award from the American Cheese Society, when he already was known as the “godfather of artisanal cheese.”
Of the dozen or so cheeses that the younger Vella made, most were either Italian-style or various types of jack, and all were considered magnificent by veteran cheese makers. The secret? All were made by hand.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a cheese plate with a glass of wine, you owe a word of thanks to Ignazio Vella, whose widespread influence led to the development of countless cheeses that pair beautifully with the gift of the grape.
Sadly, Vella died on June 9. He was 82.
Happily, Vella Cheese Co. lives on, now under the direction of Ig’s daughter, Chickie, whose son is the cheese maker.