Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Other times, it’s cheese. Fortunately for all of us, one New Jersey food truck offers both. Who Cut the Cheese Lady serves smiles and delicious grilled cheese options throughout the food trucking season. Owner Brenda Picone puts out products that combine quality ingredients and mass appeal. After all, who doesn’t enjoy grilled cheese?
Brenda moved to New Jersey from Boston in the late 1980s. Over the following decades, she worked in several facets of the food industry, learning the business inside and out. After deciding to retire from that, she took the leap to food trucking. Now, Who Cut the Cheese Lady is a staple NJ food truck.
After deciding on grilled cheese sandwiches, Brenda began crafting sandwich after special sandwich. The early part of her retirement was spent carefully choosing cheese, bread, and more; in an effort to produce the greatest grilled cheeses in the area.
She then bought her truck in November 2017. By the spring of 2018, the aptly named Who Cut the Cheese Lady was ready for action. Of course, they offer a variety of grilled cheese options with a twist, and you can even build your own.
Best of NJ spoke with Brenda about her business model and the grilled cheeses Northern New Jerseyans have been going crazy over. Check out the interview below!
The Best New Jersey Food Trucks: Who Cut The Cheese Lady Interview
Best of NJ: You have more than 30 years of experience in the food industry. What were your roles over that period or time?
Brenda Picone: Back in the ’80s, I worked for a food brokerage firm. We sold fruit to restaurants, hospitals, colleges, things like that. Then I eventually got into my own catering business. This is all happening up in the Boston area, where I am originally from. I did full service for about 10 years up there, and then I moved down here to New Jersey; and continued on a part-time basis catering down here. Then I worked for a school food service company down here for 15 years.
BONJ: And then you decided to start the Who Cut The Cheese Lady food truck?
Brenda: No, we actually kind of backed into it. I was done with my old company. When my husband and I discussed it, we bantered around, and he said just retire, get out. Prior to the actual date of retirement, we were planning on taking over a local restaurant. That fell through, and that’s when we began thinking about a food truck. Then we went out and bought a food truck, and that’s when we said, “Okay, now we’re committed.” [Laughs]
BONJ: How did your experience in the food industry translate to the food truck business?
Brenda: What I carried over was the food and safety laws and regulations, the purchasing aspect, the food prep, food costs, your basic food service core, and customer service. The real learning curve was, although I dealt with the board of health before, now before every event you have to deal with the board of health and the fire inspection—all that paperwork far in advance. There are contracts to write every time you book an event. There is the issue with the weather as well. Our first year with the food truck, it rained nearly every other event; and that has a major impact on your income.
BONJ: Why did you choose to specialize in grilled cheese?
Brenda: After we bought the truck and did all types of research, it was recommended to us to get in touch with the Meadowlands Racetrack for the flea market. Our first thought was burgers and dogs, and the guy told us no, there are tons of [those]; we have to pick something different, some comfort food. After doing more research, there didn’t seem to be a grilled cheese-specific food truck within a 40-mile radius. So that’s what we decided on, and it just spun up from there.
BONJ: What variations of grilled cheese does Who Cut The Cheese Lady offer?
Brenda: In the beginning, I came up with eight sandwiches. Everything was made from scratch. No, I didn’t make my own cheese [laughs]. Then we narrowed it down to the four most popular, plus build-your-own. Those four are White Pesto, buffalo chicken, our seasoned steak, and my own pulled barbecue. Then you have your build-your-own where you can design your own with any ingredients we have available.
BONJ: Do you serve any other types of food items?
Brenda: We have French fries with our own special seasoning. We spent months developing the seasoning, and people love the seasoning—they often come back asking for it bottled [laughs]. So we’ll give some fries with your sandwich.
We also have children’s meals that offer grilled cheese as well as chicken nuggets and hot dogs, depending on the event. Then in the fall and winter we sometimes have tomato soup. However, mainly we’re just grilled cheese and fries.
BONJ: Any new items for Who Cut The Cheese Lady in 2020?
Brenda: We frequently run specials. I make my own mac and cheese, so we’ll do a mac and cheese grilled cheese. I’ll make corned beef, so we’ll offer corned beef and Swiss cheese. When we’re at places on a regular basis, we’ll run specials more frequently.
BONJ: Talk a little about experimenting with, and expanding upon, the traditional grilled cheese recipe.
Brenda: Anyone can do plain grilled cheese. So I made probably hundreds of variations of grilled cheese. I would make them, deliver them to family and friends, and ask for their detailed opinions and honest criticism. My husband would come home from work and walk through the door and ask, “All right, what’s the special grilled cheese tonight.” [Laughs]
So that was exciting for me, and that was the challenge for me. I had to find the balance between all the ingredients and flavors. Even the bread was a large part of it; I can’t tell you how many bread manufacturers I went through to find just the right one that complimented the ingredients that I was putting on it. So we spent a lot of time creating a quality product.
BONJ: What are your favorite events to attend (with the truck)?
Brenda: We’re frequently at the Paramus Farmers Market, and we love doing events with JustJersey Fest. We also do a number with JC Promotions. We do a lot for charities as well, for emergency services workers and autism. Most often, we tend to stay local in Northern New Jersey, but we will travel around the state on occasion. And we’ll always post where we are on social media. We’re on Facebook and Instagram.
We also love doing weddings. People are exiting this grand event, happy and joyful; and while they’re waiting for the valets to get their cars, we’re handing them grilled cheeses. People always get a kick out of that.
To learn more about Who Cut The Cheese Lady, click here to visit their website.
Want to find more of The Best New Jersey Food Trucks? Then check out The Best New Jersey Food Trucks: The Complete Series.
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ