2023 Hall of Fame award winner

John A. Ciano

World's Best Cheeses / Crystal Food Imports
Hall of Fame

John Ciano has been at the forefront of the specialty cheese industry for most of his career, flying in the best cheeses from Europe and elsewhere to supply customers across the U.S.

After growing up helping his father run a small market, and later becoming an independent food distributor, he founded Crystal Food Import in 1969 and led that company for most of his life. He sold the business in 2010 to World’s Best Cheese, where he continued to work until his recent retirement.

Crystal Food Import was for a time the exclusive importer of Boursin Cheese, an herbed soft cheese brand from France, which the company was importing at the rate of “hundreds of cases per week,” Ciano says.

“That’s how I went national, because of the Boursin cheese,” he says.

Ciano started out in the cheese business importing cheeses from Denmark and selling them locally in the Boston area, before adding more products and reaching more customers. The company expanded from a small shop in Boston’s Faneuil Hall to larger and larger facilities and eventually began to import from more than a dozen countries, employing 55 people and shipping specialty cheeses across the country.

“We specialized in high-end, fancy cheeses that had to be flown in,” Ciano says. “We were the only ones at the time bringing cheese in by air.”

Ciano says he would find new cheeses by traveling to shows in Europe and taste-testing the specialty cheeses that local makers had to offer.

“Anything that tasted any good, I'd buy it, and start importing it,” says Ciano. “That was important at the time because we were the only ones doing it.”

As consumers across the U.S. became more and more familiar with the quality and variety of cheeses available from overseas, he says, demand for his products soared.

His daughter, Stephanie Ciano, is now continuing in her father’s footsteps as the vice president of international purchasing at World’s Best Cheese.