Looking for the big cheese in Ohio? Find it at the Guggisberg Cheese plant in Holmes County

Ohio cheesemaker makes product for 60 years

CHARM, Ohio - It's in the heart of Amish country in the rolling hills of Holmes County, where the pace of life is often slowed to the speed of a clip-clopping horse harnessed to a buggy. Very little seems to be moving much faster. However, at Guggisberg Cheese, the workers producing cheese never seem to stop moving because the process calls for constant attention as fresh ingredients are poured into large vats. There, the cheese will not wait.

Guggisberg has made cheese for 60 years, ever since Alfred Guggisberg had taken an interest in the process. He lived in the Alps of Switzerland when he began making cheese. Age 16 at the time, he eventually brought his passion for the dairy product to the U.S., settling in an area of Holmes County nicknamed Little Switzerland.

Generations later, the company is making so much cheese it has to run production lines many hours a day to meet the demand for the product. It's sold in stores throughout this region of the country and in its own store within sight of the plant.

"It's a lengthy process," said plant manager Kyle Bennett who grants interviews while keeping his eyes gazed on the workers who scurry around him pumping in the milk brought trucked in by large tankers. Once inside the vats, ingredients are added to get the cheese process going.

"We're going to make this cheese," said Bennett, "but we also have to brine it to form it and pack it."

Raymond Yoder knows the process well. For 46 years, he has labored in the plant. With a smiling face, skipping from one vat to another, he keeps an eye on the curds and whey stirred by large paddles. 

"Not hard work, but always busy," Yoder said. When he had uttered his last syllable, he was gone to the next step in the cheese process because the cheese will not wait.

The company makes several styles of cheese, but its signature brand is "Baby Swiss," is a milder form of Swiss cheese. It sells very well.

Carl and Linda Purdey of Elyria were in the Guggisberg store looking through the large window into the production plant. They had an armload of cheese, but not all of it destined for their own dinner table.

"We buy it for our family and send it out to Dallas, Texas," said Linda. Her husband simply giggled with the thought of cheese.

Charm is a small burg in Holmes County. The Guggisberg family owns the plant, store, and a resort across the street. It draws visitors from throughout Ohio who want to see how Swiss cheese is made. Throughout the day, the cheese goes through its process. The curds, the solid part of the cheese, is kept and pressed together. The whey, the liquid, is poured off.

The nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffett who sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey may ring through your mind, but the whey is a by-product and is drained off. When the cheese it put into forms to shape it into blocks or wheels, it will eventually find its way into aging rooms where time will mature the cheese. If you wonder about the holes in Swiss cheese, the experts call them "eyes." They come from gases that start forming within the aging cheese itself.

"The longer it's in there, the more gas you're going to get as far as how big you want your eyes," Bennett said.

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