15th Annual People’s Awards

Deli Business honors individuals who have made a significant contribution to the industry, their company and their community

Michelle
Buster 

Co-founder, 
Forever Cheese, 
Long Island City, NY

Q. How has your career evolved over the years?

 A. I went to school not knowing what I wanted to do. I always liked languages, but I didn’t know how to incorporate them. I went to study in Spain (Valencia), and it was a life changer that opened up possibilities. I love language and people, and being far from home helped me realize that I felt at home there and that I really belonged. Before going back for my last year of college, I went to Italy, fell in love with the language and was determined to learn it my final year of school. Being from Philadelphia, I was a big fan of the Philadelphia Phillies and wanted to work for them. I did marketing study projects for Spectacor (a Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment company) and an internship at the Richmond Coliseum, hoping that would help me get there. I ended up working for a tennis tournament in Philly, the U.S. Pro Indoor, as a communications director. I did this for a year until I finished the tournament and then quit my job and went backpacking in Europe on my way back to find a job in Spain. I started setting up jobs at different tennis tournaments until it actually turned into my job, and I spent the next seven or so years as an independent contractor in sports marketing. It was when I did a World Cup golf tournament in Italy that I met my current partner of today, Pierluigi, and that relationship led me back to the States. We began working together to build his family’s cheeses, specifically Fulvi Pecorino Romano, then added a couple other family cheeses: Cacio de Roma and Rustico. When I agreed to help Pierluigi put his family’s cheeses on the map, I had one condition—to let me find a great representative of Manchego Cheese to bring to the U.S. once we were successful with his family’s cheese. I wanted the American public to fall in love with Spain like I did. My only food background prior to that other than working as a hostess and server in college was at the Olympics organizing a restaurant for NBC. I sourced purveyors. I’m so fortunate to have found two industries that have kept me engaged every day.

Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?

A. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without learning from everyone around me. My early cheese history was learning from Pierluigi and his family; my immersion was total. It was the cheese and Italian culture that came with it. I learned about everything, the products and the industry. Every single day I learned, because I didn’t know about the industry, which made me interested in focusing on educating myself. The best advice I can give is to always be open and receptive to learning.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome on the job?


A. Being a woman in this industry wasn’t always the easiest. I was used to that from sports, so I didn’t let it deter me. Honestly, I can’t remember even seeing many women cheesemakers in Italy and Spain until the last few years. Also, mold is ongoing. It should be a plus, but never seems to be. We need to keep going over it. Also, the government changes, like the E. coli regulations have limited us in bringing in great cheeses. FSMA also has made things more difficult, if you want a varied line of products. It’s difficult for some producers to do all the paperwork and technical things. You invariably lose the little guys. We consider all producers our family, and don’t want to see them go, but sometimes it gets too complicated for them.

Q. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?A.  I like to drink wine, and I just passed the sommelier exam last summer. I love music, live concerts as well as movies, and I just love people and speaking foreign languages. I love fitness—biking, hiking, working out in the gym (my license plate says EXRSIZ) And I have never lost my thirst for travel. I’m fortunate that I can travel for what I do, but I’m always trying to fit in new places every year. It can be challenging.

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