We don’t normally do book reviews, but I felt compelled to write about Michael Paterniti’s “The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese” (Dial Press 2013) because, in a way, this book explains why the Food Law Firm exists. The book tells the story behind an artisanal sheep’s milk cheese called Parámo de Guzmán. It is a story about food traditions and culture, personal shortcomings, relationships, and storytelling itself. It also is a story about the importance of good legal counsel to the success of a food business.
The author travels to the tiny village of Guzmán in the Castile region of Spain where he meets the cheese’s creator, Ambrosio Molinos. Molinos is the Slow Food movement personified. He is a farmer with a deep passion for the land and the food and wine it produces. He created the cheese to revive a family tradition and put his heart and soul into making it absolutely sublime. When Molinos began selling the cheese, it was a tremendous success.
Until things went bad. As the business grew, it became necessary to bring in investors. Molinos signed contracts he apparently did not understand. The business was mismanaged and, eventually, was drowning in debt. When the investors wanted to sell, Molinos discovered that he had given them majority control and could do nothing to stop them. He lost the business, all of his family’s money and farmland, and was left personally liable for millions of dollars of the business’s debt. Sadly, the world also lost his fabulous cheese as the new owners of Parámo de Guzmán did not adhere to Molinos’s quality standards.
So what does this story have to do with our law firm? As I read the book, I could not help but think that the tragedy could have been avoided if Molinos had sound legal advice and representation from the beginning. I found myself wishing that I had a chance to review the investors’ contracts before Molinos signed them, to negotiate on his behalf, and to secure his intellectual property rights in his cheese. It occurred to me that Jason and I do what we do precisely because there are people like Ambrosio Molinos who make extraordinary cheese, but don’t have the inclination or time to learn the law.
We decided to focus our law practice on food and farming businesses because we want to see the Ambrosios of the world succeed. Practically nothing makes us happier than good food (our families and friends make us pretty happy too). We also believe that the sustainable production of top-quality food makes the world a better place. As The Telling Room shows, though, sustainability involves more than environmental stewardship; it also requires food and farming businesses to be financially stable and legally secure. Our firm exists to provide our clients with the stable legal footing they need, not only to sustain their businesses, but to thrive.