By Kyle Valentini, AloNovus Corp
Featured Story – 3rd Place
Since 1950, Guggisberg Cheese has been making cheese in the Doughty Valley using techniques developed by its founder, Alfred Guggisberg who immigrated from Switzerland in 1947 bringing with him years of cheese-making expertise.
What started in the rolling hills of Ohio’s Amish Country so many years ago, Guggisberg Cheese continues the rich tradition of cheese-making today producing their famous Baby Swiss and Swiss in two factories without compromising the taste and quality that have become synonymous with the name.
In 2015 Guggisberg was crowned Grand Champion Cheesemaker of United States. Also in 2015 Richard Guggisberg embarked on an expansion and modernization of their Swiss cheese plant. This plant utilizes a high degree of automation, sophistication and technology. The success of this new installation is due in large part to Yves Le Leuch.
Yves Le Leuch, an expert in the field of cheese in his own rite who, like Alfred Guggisberg, uses traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation all while utilizing the state of the art equipment that improves the efficiency of cheese-making through automation.
Le Leuch who hails from Brittany in France’s hilly northwestern-most region, began his career in the dairy industry in a milk powder factory in 1978. Born into a family of fishermen and seafarers, Le Leuch was fascinated with the science of cheese and chose to keep his feet firmly planted on the coastal peninsula rather than ride the waves.
“When you are young, you don’t know what you really want to do. Cheesemaking was a mystery for me,” Le Leuch said. “I was fascinated by the science behind it.”
Le Leuch would go on to study at the prestigious l’École Nationale d’Industrie Laitière et des Biotechnologies (the National School of the Dairy Industry and Biotechnology, or ENILBio) in Poligny, France, one of the leading dairy institutes in the world.
Upon completion of his degree, Le Leuch went from being a cheesemaker to a technologist as he applied his science skills in production, in the lab and in quality management.
“I had the chance to see the evolution of knowledge and the requirements for good quality milk and cheese,” Le Leuch said. “The sum of all these experiences gave me a passion for cheese.”
After a successful career in France that spanned nearly four-decades, Le Leuch eventually came stateside to work side-by-side with Richard Guggisberg, the second-generation owner of Guggisberg Cheese who is equally passionate about cheese.
“Yves has been with us three years,” Richard Guggisberg said. “His passion for producing quality cheese matches up with our own. We have learned we cannot count on the knowledge of one cheesemaker, rather, we had to develop and acquire a system of continuous improvement and statistical process control to guide the process. We are always seeking ways to improve. We value Yves’ experience and expertise. He worked for the largest Swiss cheese manufacturer in the world and has helped us create systems and processes so we can continue to grow without compromising quality.”
“Automation helps with the efficiency of running the plant, but it doesn’t take away from the traditional aspect of actually making cheese, which is really important to us here at Guggisberg,” Le Leuch said. “Quality is so important. If you’ve got a good-quality cheese, it’s going to sell itself as we have seen over the years.”
Le Leuch knows a cheese’s flavor varies, depending on the conditions that give the milk its distinctive character, like climate, type of cattle, feed used and season of the year—as well as the time it takes to mature.
“Knowing the impact of variables and constants of cheesemaking allows the cheesemaker to make choices,” Le Leuch said. “With the same milk one can make an impressive number of different cheeses. Making Swiss cheese is more complicated. Orchestrating this requires good knowledge. We want good flavor, texture and pretty eyes and because the cheese is aged, we have to wait at least 60 days to see if we’ve been successful.”
“Americans are eating cheese in a more sophisticated way,” said Ursula Guggisberg-Bennett, Richard Guggisberg’s daughter and the marketing coordinator for Guggisberg Cheese. “Charcuterie boards are popular now and our customers are appreciating cheese in ways they haven’t before.”
As tastes change and palettes expand, Guggisberg Cheese is keeping pace with customer demands and is one of the largest producers of Swiss cheese in the nation.
“Yves helps us with his expertise, yes,” said Guggisberg-Bennett. “He also brings us a philosophy and a management style that reflects our traditions, our authenticity and our desire to be the best.”
When he’s not on the factory floor or working in the lab, Le Leuch is perfecting his golf game on the links.
“He’s getting pretty good, too,” said Guggisberg.
Guggisberg Cheese is located at 5060 state Route 557 in Millersburg (between Millersburg and Charm). Visit their website at BabySwiss.com or call them at 330-893-2500. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.