A SIGN OFF COUNTY Trunk Highway GG in Cambria signals to people that they have found the Salem Cheesehouse, which has won several awards for its blue cheese. The cheese also may be found at several large chain stores. Reagan Zimmerman photos
by Reagan Zimmerman
Lambeau Field knows a fact or two about quality cheese.
Home of the “cheeseheads,” the Green Bay Packers’ stadium hosted the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in March.
An area business was able to come away as a champion.
Salemville Cheese Co-op of Cambria, a family-owned Amish business that began in 1984, won “Best in Class” at the competition for its Gorgonzola cheese.
While Operations Manager Nelson Schrock did not attend the competition as a result of being from the Amish and the Amish community, he noted the honor is a highlight of his career.
He has spent 21 years of his 35-year-old life creating authentic Amish cheese at the family owned Salemville Cheese Co-op, located 31 miles south of Green Lake in Cambria, Wis.
“My uncle and my father got into this business and started it out,” Schrock said. “They are both retired, so I am now the second generation of managing the business.”
With a 28,000-square-foot facility and recent addition, this home-grown cheese business continues to expand.
Construction for the newest addition, which added 15,000 square feet to the existing 13,000-square-foot facility, began in June 2016 and concluded last April.
The addition included areas for cheese making, brining, curing and milk receiving and handling with pasteurization.
Salemville begins its cheese-making process with milk provided by its 63 suppliers who hand-milk their dairy cows.
That milk is then chilled to the required temperature and used within the next 24 to 48 hours to be turned into cheese. The product is then moved onto the next step, cheese brining.
The cheese making, brining and curing additions have been important for the facility.
”Cheese brining is basically a saltwater solution that we store our cheese in for 48 hours,” Schrock said.
The time spent in the cheese brine accomplishes many key steps in making the cheese.
“It does a lot of things,” Schrock said of the brining. “It establishes a moisture and salt content in your product. It stabilizes the shelf life of it. There is a lot of different chemistry going on in there as well for forming the cheese.”
Cheese curing occurs during the first three weeks of the cheese’s existance.
“We store the cheese in a warmer temperature with a higher humidity for jump starting the cheese cultures and enzyme activity,” Schrock said.
The remainder of the time, the cheeses are aged.
Salemville products, mainly the blue cheeses, are aged 60 days. It does have other types, such as 90-day-aged Gorgonzola and premium products that are aged 120 days.
Smoked cheeses are offered as well by the Amish business.
Salemville Cheese uses many different types of dairy processing and manufacturing equipment from milk processing, cheese processing and cheese handling.
Before the cheese is sent through those machines, Schrock noted, “a lot of the back work is done by hand.”
Anytime the cheese is handled, it is always by hand, including seven steps during the beginning of the process.
Part of Amish authenticity is the hand-made aspect of Salemville’s products.
“As years went by, we automated more. One major automotive step was unloading the vats [containers were the cheese is made],” Schrock said, explaining the mechanical differences between the beginning of the plant to its place now.
To run all of the operations, many jobs must be filled. Everyday, 35 employees work from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Salemville Cheese employs 56 people.
“There are probably close to 12 different job descriptions,” Schrock said. “We have divided them [the jobs] up into operations management, plant management, sanitation and maintenance, production, production management, packaging workers, consultation departments, laundry and store duties, including clerk and customer service.”
Schrock handles all portions of human resources.
Salemville is a blue-veined cheese manufacturer. Blue-veined is explained as, “a category of molded cheese.”
“We actually have a mold ingredient; it is mold that we add to our cheese,” Schrock said, while explaining the molding process.
On average, the Salemville Cheese Co-op produces 1,800 pounds of cheese a day.
“We have the capacity to produce 4,000 pounds of cheese a day, with the new plant just starting out,” Schrock said.
The signature blue cheese made on-site at Salemville is sold and distributed nationally to many large chain stores.
Among the places it may be found are Sam’s Club, Safeway, Super-Valu and Target.
Schrock noted he could probably name 10 more stores if he had his list.
Salemville signature products can be found as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. “We are everywhere,” Schrock said.