Ohio Swiss Cheese Association decides to dissolve

| September 15, 2021

The directors of the Ohio Swiss Cheese Association (OSCA) have decided that, due to the small number of present members and the ongoing changes in the cheese industry, it is time to dissolve the association. Cheesemakers, past and present, express their genuine appreciation to the good folks in the Tuscarawas Valley and Sugarcreek area for their many years of support to the Swiss Cheese industry.

Since its founding in 1918, the goals of the OSCA were to promote the sale and quality of the state’s Swiss cheese. Although Swiss cheese was first made in eastern Ohio in the mid-1800s, it was in the early 1900s that the sale and production of Swiss cheese began to grow. Known as “cheese houses” at the time, there were more than 80 different cheesemakers, most of whom were Swiss immigrants sponsored by farmer-owned cooperatives. The cheesemakers used their inherited and acquired cheesemaking knowledge and tremendous work ethic to make Ohio the leading Swiss cheesemaking state in the country.

Richard Guggisberg of Guggisberg Cheese, says “The Swiss immigrants that came here brought with them a truly unique knowledge and deep tradition of quality that remains here to this day. Just as Switzerland is recognized the world over for their cheeses, Ohio is recognized as the Nation’s leader in production of Swiss cheese. The Ohio Swiss Cheese Association brought all of these immigrants together and played a major role in making Ohio Swiss cheese what it is today”.

As cheese buyers in the large cities pushed for more consistent quality and bigger volumes of cheese, the OSCA partnered with the USDA and Ohio State University staff to improve cheesemaking, techniques and facilities. For many years the OSCA provided laboratory services and acted as a supply house for the cheesemakers in the area from an office in Sugarcreek. As smaller-producing cheese houses closed and others grew with in-house labs and direct supplier connections, the association’s functions changed into one of promotion for the industry and as a clearinghouse for regulatory rule changes from government agencies.

It was the OSCA who, in 1953, originated the idea of a festival in Sugarcreek, to showcase the area’s Swiss heritage and the cheese that the area was known for. The cheese tent, parade, music and other traditional Swiss entertainment have allowed the Ohio Swiss Festival, held annually, to draw thousands from around the country to the area in early October.

The current condition of the Swiss cheese industry in Ohio is very healthy and continues to evolve just as the early cheesemakers did. Presently, nearly one-half of all the Swiss cheese made in the United States is produced in Ohio plants. Most of the plants are presently family-owned and operated by second, third and fourth generation descendants of the company’s Swiss heritage founders. Some cheesemakers have diversified into other types of cheese and have developed Swiss cheese variations that today’s cheese markets expect. Although the outward appearances of the cheesemaking plants have changed dramatically, the quality expectations of the cheesemakers have not waivered.

Chuck Ellis, President of Pearl Valley Cheese, states that “Cheesemaking wasn’t just a job but was a lifestyle in which all family members normally participated in some way from childhood years into adulthood. This enabled multi-generations of our families to share the benefits and trials of this unique business.”

To commemorate the legacy of the families that made Sugarcreek a Swiss cheese industry hub, plans are underway to erect a commemorative statue that will give a permanent reminder to the local residents and visitors of those who founded and grew the industry. Details of the monument are being finalized. The names of the early cheese house operators will be included as a permanent reminder of their work.

The Swiss immigrants who started and grew the industry and left a lasting imprint on the area will be forever remembered in this statue.

Individuals, companies and organizations who desire to participate in the funding of this project may contribute by sending a check to: Village of Sugarcreek, Cheesemakers Tribute Monument, 410 South Broadway, Sugarereek, OH 44681.

A limited supply of the 2018 OSCA book entitled, “The Ohio Swiss Cheese Association, 100 years of Swiss Cheese & Swiss Culture,” is still available for $15 per copy at Pearl Valley Cheese. The book is full of photos, association records, and stories of the Swiss cheese industry.

Category: Business

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Article contributed to The Beacon.

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