Pearl Valley Cheese to be featured as part of Swiss cheese book

| June 2, 2017

FRESNO – The first Swiss cheese was made in Ohio in 1833 in a copper kettle over an open fire in the woods by three Swiss immigrants, John Zimmerman, Jacob Stenner Sr., and Christian Isaly in the Ragersville area. Swiss cheese making has come a long way since that day and the history of Ohio Swiss cheese making has been recorded in a book compiled and written by Glen Hammel and members of the Ohio Swiss Cheese Association.

The book took 18 months to research and features stories about cheese factories in Ohio both past and present, and everything from the pioneers of Swiss cheese makers up to the modern owners, mostly third and fourth generations from those pioneers, of today.

Ohio is the largest Swiss cheese maker in the country with one-third of all Swiss cheese sold coming from Ohio. Although the first Swiss cheese was made in Ohio in 1833, the Ohio Swiss Cheese Association formed in 1918.

“The group came together to improve the quality of the cheese through the USDA and the Ohio State University, and improve the marketability of cheese,” said Chuck Ellis, owner of Pearl Valley Cheese. “We’re competitors, but at the same time, we’re really friends.”

The book, “100 Years of Swiss Cheese and Swiss Culture” is being published to celebrate the association’s 100th anniversary. With only six active members in the association today, the group had as many as 40 members at one time.

Among other interesting facts about the Swiss cheese industry in Ohio, the book features a section dedicated to Swiss cheese factories, past and present, complete with old photos and interesting facts about each factory. There are more than 400 plants in Ohio making cheese, but the book only focuses on those making Swiss cheese, which is about 50 or more.

“Most of these guys were Swiss immigrants,” said Ellis. “Ernest and Gertrude were both Swiss immigrants who purchased a stone building with a copper kettle that was used to make cheese and started the business.”

Ernest Stalder purchased and started Pearl Valley Cheese in 1928 and married Gertrude Bandi the next year, who also became heavily involved in the business. Milk was delivered via horse and buggy until 1932 when the first milk truck made its entrance into the factory. A new factory was built across the road from the previous location which included electricity and multiple copper kettles.

“Of all of the cheese plants in Ohio, most of us do it because our families did it,” said Ellis. “Pearl Valley now has the fourth generation working here, my wife and I being from the third. It’s still a family-driven industry. It’s almost a lifestyle. The early cheesemakers made cheese seven days a week. Some would shut down in the winter months because it was too hard to transport, but as it evolved, most factories are making cheese five to six days a week. We grew up with it. My teenage children would work here in the summer months and after school.”

Although cheese-making has come a long way from copper kettles over an open fire, the overall process is still the same.

“The technology may be different, but the process is basically the same,” said Ellis. “I’ve heard someone say that cheese making is an art and a science, and that’s absolutely true.”

One part of the process that has changed dramatically is the use of whey, which is the term for water that is removed from the milk before making cheese. Whey used to be a problem back in the early days of cheese making because people didn’t know how to dispose of it. Now, whey is used in a large variety of products with high protein and many health benefits.

“We always want people to taste the cheese before they buy it,” said Ellis. “Cheese tasting is part of the fun. The consumers in America today are also more health-conscience and Swiss cheese is very health-conscience. It has a lot of protein and no trans-fat. The fat in Swiss cheese is the good fat that your body needs. Consumers also want to buy locally-made products and all of the milk we buy for our cheese comes from farms within a 50-mile radius of our location.”

Pearl Valley Cheese currently makes 13 varieties of cheeses. Swiss cheese is 30 percent of their production, Colby cheese is 30 percent, and 40 percent is a mixed variety.

The book can be pre-ordered at a discount price through the end of June at Books will be shipped to the buyer at the end of August. They will be available retail for a slightly higher price in September and will be featured at the Swiss Festival in Sugarcreek Sept. 28 – 30. The book is 200 pages and will be available in hardback.

“It’s a great coffee table book and will be a great gift for people who have roots in the area,” said Ellis. “A lot of names and places in the book people will recognize. It’s a very fascinating project and I hope people will be interested in it. It can be for anybody who loves history or agriculture.”

Pearl Valley Cheese has won many national cheese competitions and takes pride in their cheese production.

“We have less cheese factories here, but the surviving ones are more efficient,” said Ellis. “In Ohio, we have a reputation for the quality of our cheese. We really have a name for ourselves as the Swiss cheese capital of America.”

Category: Business

About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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