Back in 2016, I took one of my favorite reporting trips ever. In Denver, I found myself deep inside the headquarters of “the Willy Wonka of Cheese,” also known as Leprino Foods. The mozzarella was flying. Pie after pie was unveiled from ovens that replicate the chains that use them—Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Little Caesars. It wasn’t long before slices found their way into my mouth. I consumed what the 2017 magazine feature called an “avalanche of cheese”—from shreds and dices of mozzarella to flavored cheeses and then so many frozen products. There were enchiladas and mozzarella sticks, stuffed-crust pizzas, hot pockets, lasagna and baked ziti. Then there was Yoplait yogurt, Pillsbury Toaster Strudel and Muscle Milk, followed by a string of protein bars. The fever dream ended with shots of whey. The entire tasting took three hours and a whole lot of Lactaid. Then I met the Big Cheese himself.
Billionaire Jim Leprino’s executive office a few floors up had marble Corinthian columns and gold accents, and when he saw me sitting at his board table, recorder ready to go, he stopped abruptly, and said: “It’s hard for me to believe I agreed to this. I really like to keep my privacy.”
So much so, in fact, that the last photograph he had taken publicly was in 1978. I could only find the image after meeting Leprino in person and rummaging through decades of images. But Leprino did sit down for a long interview with me and answered my questions about how he transformed his family’s tiny grocery in Denver’s Little Italy neighborhood into the inventor and world’s largest supplier of pizza cheese that dominates the pizza industry and beyond.
“My success is a fairy tale,” Leprino told me then.
Those inroads helped a lot as I wrapped up a follow-up feature this week about how a family feud has pushed the elusive Leprino and his mozzarella giant Leprino Foods to court. A trial could kick off right after Thanksgiving. Give it a read. It’s a juicy tale of lawsuits, loans and other family drama—which I will report on until the end.
—Chloe Sorvino, Staff Writer
Pre-Order my book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, out December, 6th from Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books.
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Family Feud Forces Reclusive Domino’s Cheese Billionaire Into Court. A lawsuit claims that billionaire James Leprino, whose family controls the world’s largest mozzarella producer, didn’t give his brother’s daughters, Leprino Foods’ minority owners, the same chance to profit as he and his children had. By Yours Truly.
Upcycling Tropical Crop Waste Streams. By pairing insects with a bacteria, a young company is able to upcycle the waste from palm oil production and turn it into animal feeds and fertilizer, writes Steven Savage.
Slutty Vegan Is Expanding To Harlem This Fall. The entirely plant-based fast-food chain is adding a second location to its presence in New York, reports Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner.
How Climate Change Is Impacting Winemakers In Texas. With an increasingly volatile climate, winemakers are implementing different ways to produce, adapt and support sustainable winemaking practices in Texas, writes Claudia Alarcon.
How Cookbook Author Alex Snodgrass Made The Leap Into CPG. It takes a lot to decide to go from influencer to food brand owner. Shayna Harris reports on Alex Snodgrass of The Defined Dish and her big bet.
A bite made by Romily Newman, the chef and hilarious Instagram personality. Fried oyster with Red Clay hot sauce, served in a shell.
Chloe Sorvino leads coverage of food and agriculture as a staff writer on the enterprise team at Forbes. Her book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, will publish on December 6, 2022, with Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. Her nearly nine years of reporting at Forbes has brought her to In-N-Out Burger’s secret test kitchen, drought-ridden farms in California’s Central Valley, burnt-out national forests logged by a timber billionaire, a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha and even a chocolate croissant factory designed like a medieval castle in northern France.
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