As horse-drawn buggies clip-clop down the county road, locals and tourists alike visit the Deutsch Käse Haus, exiting the red barn storefront with Colby-cheese-colored shopping bags in hand. Amidst the quaint Amish countryside in northern Indiana, this staple in the community has been brought under new ownership.
In early October, MMPA announced the purchase of the Deutsch Käse Haus, a small cheese plant and storefront in Middlebury, Indiana. The Deutsch Käse Haus—translated from German as German Cheese House—processes approximately 400,000 pounds of milk per day into cylinder-shaped longhorn or deli horn cheeses.
MMPA officially assumed ownership of the plant on Nov. 1, becoming the cooperative’s first foray into producing a retail cheese product. The acquisition diversifies MMPA’s mix of manufactured dairy products which includes award-winning butter, powder and other fluid milk products produced in Ovid or Constantine, Michigan.
“We are eager to continue to grow our footprint in the Great Lakes region and utilize the expertise at Deutsch Käse Haus to gain greater diversity of our product portfolio,” MMPA General Manager Joe Diglio explained. “MMPA members have a proven track record of producing high quality milk and to be able to align with an award winning cheese plant located in close proximity to our Constantine plant provides great synergies in our milk marketing strategy.”
MMPA purchased the plant from the Guggisberg Cheese Company of Millersburg, Ohio. Yet the history of the Deutsch Käse Haus began in the late 1970s when a local Amish man, Ralph Bontrager, built the plant to provide Amish dairy farmers a place to market their can milk.
The first day of production back then welcomed one can milk truck delivering 15,000 pounds of milk. According to Plant Manager Elsie Raber, they were still receiving milk in cans until this past spring from approximately 20 small Amish farms. She says the can milk market has dwindled over the last several years and more Amish church leaders have allowed the Amish farmers to have cooled bulk milk tanks and operate as a Grade A farm.
The Deutsch Käse Haus was one of the Guggisberg Cheese Company’s three cheese plants. The other two facilities are in Ohio and specialize in the production of Swiss cheese with the company’s signature “Baby Swiss.” The company decided to sell the Indiana plant to refocus their efforts on Swiss but intends to maintain a relationship with MMPA and the Deutsch Käse Haus moving forward.
“The Deutsch Käse Haus has established a valued and trusted legacy in Indiana. I am confident MMPA’s progressive leadership will carry on this legacy as we move forward, bringing mutual benefit to both Guggisberg Cheese Company and MMPA,” Richard Guggisberg, owner of Guggisberg Cheese Company, said. “MMPA has a strong membership base in northern Indiana which will allow Deutsch Käse Haus to continue providing high quality products under new ownership.”
In Indiana, MMPA has just under 200 member farms, many of whom are Amish. The plant began receiving milk exclusively from MMPA farms in early September. Every year, many of these farms earn MMPA awards for producing milk with outstanding quality.
Cheese at the Deutsch Käse Haus is award-winning and internationally recognized at the World Dairy Expo, U.S. Cheese Makers Competition and World Cheese Makers Competition. The plant mainly produces Colby cheese, a softer, milder flavored cheddar cheese, in addition to Colby-jack, Monterey-jack, cheddar, pepper-jack cheese and other flavors. One new popular product is Sriracha flavored cheese.
These flavors of cheese are sold to dairy companies or as retail products directly to consumers. A facilitator of customer sales is the on sight retail shop which welcomes approximately 70,000 customers annually.
Under Guggisberg management, Raber recently remodeled the store and in 2012, they added a walk-up window to sell grilled cheese sandwiches and frozen yogurt. Inside of the store front, there is a window for customers to view the cheese making process.
“We gave the store a totally new look, which has helped a lot in promoting the product and attracting new customers,” Raber explained. “Many families visit the store and kids love to watch the cheese making. People have a lot of questions about cheese making and how it all works.”
As MMPA completes the acquisition, the co-op intends to continue manufacturing the current types of cheeses made at the plant. MMPA will also retain the 55 employees currently on staff. However, the investment positions MMPA explore expansion opportunities at the Middlebury plant location in the future.
“This plant has a lot of potential and I am very excited to be a part of taking this place to next level with MMPA,” Raber says. “It is really cool to work with people enthusiastic about what we’re able to do. That certainly helps the transition.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.