Specializing in a specific cheese is what has helped keep one family-owned cheese factory in business.
Eau Galle Cheese Factory was founded in 1945 by Leo Buhlman, a cheesemaker from Switzerland. Originally the factory was in the township of Eau Galle - hence the name - and has since been moved to a new building in Durand.
The factory is now owned by Leo's son John Buhlman and his wife Carol.
Bob Grundvig, one of Eau Galle Cheese Factory's business managers said originally they made Swiss cheese and about 45 years ago they switched to making hard Italian cheeses - Parmesan, Romano and Asiago cheeses.
"The nice thing about making Italian cheese is there are not a lot of companies making Italian cheese," Grundvig said.
Their main cheese is Parmesan and Grundvig said in 2001 their Parmesan cheese took third place at the U.S. Cheese Championship Contest.
Only a small percentage of the cheese produced at Eau Galle Cheese Factory is sold directly to the customers. Most is sold wholesale and other companies buy the cheese, finish processing it and then label it themselves.
Grundvig said when people eat Parmesan cheese and it tastes good there is a possibility it came from Eau Galle Cheese Factory whether their label is on it or not.
Producing a quality product, Grundvig said, is what makes customers continue to buy from them.
"The quality of product we make has certainly kept us around. We like to think we make the best Parmesan around."
One of the important parts of making the Italian hard cheeses is to not only take care to make sure it is made correctly, but also to make sure it is aged the appropriate amount of time. Grundvig said aging the cheese gives it the flavor people expect when they eat these cheeses.
"When consumer buys a piece of Parmesan," Grundvig said, "they have some expectation of what it will taste like."
Parmesan cheese must have 32 percent moisture or less and be aged a minimum of 10 months. Grundvig said the cheese they sell directly to customers is aged at Eau Galle Cheese Factory for the 10 months and the cheese that is sold to other companies is aged by those buyers in their own facilities.
When making their cheese, Eau Galle Cheese Factory skims the cream off of the milk and this cream is sold. Most of the cream is sold to Grassland.
"We have sold to them for years," Grundvig said. "They are a good company."
One of the reasons Eau Galle Cheese Factory stays in business and is able to compete with larger cheese factories, Grundvig said, is because it is a family-owned business.
"We're glad they're selling milk to Eau Galle," Grundvig said about their patrons. "It's competitive to get milk. Patrons like the fact that we're family run and they know John the owner."
This personal connection to the owner is a positive aspect for many farmers.
"They know the person they are selling their milk to," Grundvig said, "that's definitely a plus for Eau Galle."
Many of the patrons, Grundvig said, have been hauling their milk to Eau Galle for a long time. "We have a lot of third-generation [patrons] still providing milk to Eau Galle," Grundvig said.
In addition to having many patrons who have been with Eau Galle for many years, they have also had many loyal customers. Grundvig said they have customers who have been stopping to buy from them for the last 20 years. He said a lot of people stop at the cheese factory on their way up north to their cabins.
The family-owned aspect of the company is not only important to the patrons it is also important to Eau Galle Cheese Factory customers. "It makes a difference to some of our customers," Grundvig said. "They like the fact that we are family-run business."
To help meet the demands of producing 10-11 million pounds of cheese a year, Grundvig said they have made improvements to the plant.
"Over last five years, we put in a lot of new equipment," Grundvig said. "We have put a lot of money into updating the plant and automating it."
Those interested in ordering cheese made and sold at Eau Galle Cheese Factory along with other gifts sold in their store can be ordered at www.eaugallecheese.com.
For more information on Eau Galle Cheese Factory, call 715-283-4211.