In Long Island City, Michele Buster and Pierluigi Sini have been running a mini cheese empire for 20 years.
Buster and Sini have been importing cheese and other speciality food items from the Mediterranean to be enjoyed by food lovers nationwide. The duo has run Forever Cheese out of an office at 36-36 33rd St. in Long Island City since 1998 and imports just under 500 food items from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Croatia.
Though Buster began her career in sports marketing — working for U.S. Open Tennis and World Cup Soccer — her travels led her to Sini and his family of cheese makers.
After Buster and Sini began dating, she moved with him to Long Island City in 1992, where they both worked for his family’s company. Sini’s family makes Fulvi Pecorino Romano, a sheep’s milk produced in Nepi, a town near Rome.
“I kept hearing that his importers were not doing what they should for his family’s cheeses,” Buster said. “I said, ‘Teach me cheese and I’ll figure out how to do it.’”
Instead of just focusing on Fulvi Pecorino Romano, Buster and Sini expanded their company to import other cheeses from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Croatia. They officially started Forever Cheese in 1998.
“After spending numerous years where nobody quite [understood] the name of our company, how to pronounce the name and it didn’t really reflect that we were importers of cheese, we decided to change the name,” she said.
But just as they changed the name, the duo decided to expand their selection and began to import items to pair with cheese — fig cakes and tomato jam from Portugal; Mostarda, a fruit mustard from Italy; and extra virgin olive oil from small producers.
“What we’ve always tried to do is bring very iconic products from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and introduce them to the American public,” Buster said. “Not by making them American [but importing] the things we’re impassioned of and making everybody fall in love with them.”
Buster and Sini were pioneers in the specialty food industry. They were the first company to import cheese from Portugal to the market and were at the forefront of introducing Marcona almonds, known as the “Queen of Almonds,” from Spain to American consumers.
Buster, who lived in Spain for three years, was also responsible for bringing Drunken Goat, a semi-soft goat cheese soaked in Spanish Doble Pasta wine, to the American specialty food market.
Forever Cheese has come a long way after starting in a one-bedroom apartment at Shore Towers in Astoria. Buster has also been able to take her suppliers along for the ride and prides herself on having close relationships with all of the farmers and producers she works with.
Buster regularly takes trips to visit her suppliers and takes her staff to educate them and help the producers “be successful with these products.”
“We’re very proud of what we do because we work directly with our producers,” she said. “This is a thing few people can say. I’m on a first name basis with them. We don’t work with middle men.”
Western Queens residents can pick up Forever Cheese products at Astoria Bier and Cheese, Sorriso Fine Foods, Green Bay Marketplace and Food Cellar under the brand Mitica.
“We always told everybody that the Long Island City neighborhood was an amazing neighborhood,” Buster said. “We used to belong to the East River Tennis Club. You had the best of both worlds — [Long Island City was] not so hustle and bustle and you were so close the city.”
Buster said she and Sini, who are no longer dating, plan to stay in the area for years to come and will focus on bringing the best products from the Mediterranean to an American audience.
“We were just two young kids who had all this passion and who had what it took to bring all the best products,” she said. “It’s always been about the product and embracing the people who make them as being very special and transmitting that to our customers. We never set out to conquer the world. We don’t need to be the biggest. We don’t want to be the biggest. We just want to be the best, the best service with the best product.”
To learn more about Forever Cheese products and where to purchase them, visit www.forevercheese.com.