Suprema Specialties West, a cheese-making plant in Lathrop, Calif., closed abruptly on Feb. 28, taking with it some 160 jobs and leaving multiple dairies without a buyer for their milk.

The closure marks the latest struggle for Suprema Specialties, a Paterson, N.J.-based Italian cheese maker that last year was regarded by Forbes and Fortune magazines as one of the country's finest companies. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Feb. 24, and has been under investigation for misrepresenting its financial condition to investors. On Feb. 19, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of investors who purchased Suprema stock between Aug. 8 and Dec. 21, 2001. Trade of its stock on the NASDAQ was stopped on Dec. 24, and the stock was de-listed March 1.

According to a report in the Modesto Bee, Jose Fernandes, manager of the Lathrop plant, said Suprema officials told him Feb. 27 to close the plant. Suprema's other three U.S. plants remain in operation.

The closure also affects Modesto-based Central Valley Dairymen Inc., the largest supplier of milk to the plant. Operating year-round, the Lathrop plant received upward of 200,000 gallons of milk a day to make mozzarella, provolone and ricotta cheese.

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