The House that Cheese Built
John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2023
Miguel Leal in his memoir, “The House that Cheese Built,” tells his side of the story on why he pleaded guilty to selling contaminated cheese and lying to the Food and Drug Administration which resulted in prison time.
He claims his innocence, and relates lessons he learned on his journey as a Mexican immigrant to the USA who ultimately builds a multimillion-dollar business making and selling cheese.
He tells of quitting school because of his learning disabilities (dyslexia), and instead getting a job in a cheese-making factory. There, he says, he “learned to observe and master patience.” In his early 20s, Leal worked in a Wisconsin cheese factory where he was invited to teach them how to make Mexican cheeses while he learned how to make cheddar cheese. He worked hard, and was allowed on weekends to use their equipment for his own recipes and then sell his cheese to a growing community of Latinx and Mexican populations.
When an Ohio Amish community sponsored a best-cheese contest, he entered. To the winner, the Amish awarded a factory and a supply of milk. Leal and his friend, also a master cheese-maker, win the contest and he moves to Ohio. Leal found more markets for his cheese but his interest in expanding the factory didn’t match the Amish simple-life ideal and he was asked to leave.
Leal decides to become an independent cheese-maker and creates his own company, the Mexican Cheese Production (MCP). His sales increase as his company grows, until he makes a fatal mistake: He imported additional cheese from a Mexican factory that delivered contaminated products that Leal’s company sold.
Leal writes of his fall, how he is abandoned by his wife, and how his children refuse to see him as his legal woes mount. He becomes so desperate he attempts suicide.
This memoir is worth reading for his narratives on how different Mexican cheeses are made, like queso fresco, crema, and cotija queso (dry cheese). And he offers a key lesson for entrepreneurs: “Pay attention to opportunity.” Leal followed his own advice — he subsequently moves to Mexico to build an organic farm.