There’s A Reclusive Cheese Billionaire Who Built His Empire On Our Pizza Addiction

Image courtesy of Danielle Scott

Every night, in my dreams, I’m Scrooge McDuck-ing in my own private vault, filled to the brim with not gold, but cheese, delicious cheese. This, I would like to imagine, is what the reclusive billionaire at the head of the world’s top pizza cheese company does with his free time.

While we may never know if James Leprino, the head of Leprino Foods, has a cheese swimming pool or a throne built out of mozzarella blocks in his living room, we do know a bit more about how he built his dairy empire after reading a recent Forbes’ story about the publicity-shy Denver billionaire.

If you’ve ever eaten a frozen pizza, or had a slice from Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars or other fast food pizzerias, you’ve probably had Leprino’s cheese: The company is the world’s top producer of pizza cheese — shredded, diced, and sliced mozzarella — selling more than a billion pounds of cheese every year.

Leprino built his cheese empire on the foundation of his Italian immigrant father’s Denver market, launching his company in 1958. His timing was pretty darn good, too: That was the year the first Pizza Hut opened, which was soon followed by Little Caesars and Domino’s. Frozen pizzas were starting to become popular around that time as well.

And with the company’s headquarters in the middle of the country, Leprino could source ingredients from traditional dairy producers in Wisconsin and New York, and also the then-burgeoning California dairy industry.

Although some mozzarella purists turned up their noses at Leprino’s products, like the shredded and invidiually frozen portions the company introduced in 1986, franchises love the stuff: It’s consistent and scalable, and it soon became the industry standard.

Fast forward to today, and Leprino has managed to keep Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesars happy, putting as much as 85% of the pizza cheese market under the company’s control.

Leprino Foods also has the honor of being one of only a few large dairy companies that have never had a recall, notes Forbes, due to Leprino’s strong emphasis on quality at his plants.

For all his success, Leprino remains a mystery to most, probably because when someone hears about a cheese billionaire, they immediately want to find out whether or not he has pools of cheese or other ridiculous (but potentially awesome) cheese-related amenities.

To that end, good luck finding a photo of the guy — searching his name on Google brings up pictures of other rich men. He also declined having his photo snapped for the interview, so we may never know what a cheese billionaire truly looks like.

“It’s hard for me to believe I agreed to this,” he told Forbes. “I really like to keep my privacy.”

The whole article is really interesting for those who love cheese; we highly recommend heading over to Forbes to read it in its entirety.