SUGARCREEK The 2017 Grand Champion Cheesemaker is Pearl Valley Cheese, which is located 10 miles south of Sugarcreek on state Route 93 near Fresno. Pearl Valley was named during preliminary events held Wednesday prior to the 65th annual Ohio Swiss Festival and were officially recognized Thursday, prior to the cheese auction.
David Burch is the head cheese maker and fourth-generation cheese maker at Pearl Valley and is a nephew of owners Chuck and Sally Stalder Ellis.
Pearl Valley earned top honors by accumulating 22 points in three contests held to determine the grand champion and reserve champion cheese makers. Contests are held during Dairy Month in June, in August during the Ohio State Fair and at the Ohio Swiss Festival.
Guggisberg Cheese, which had been the grand champion for the past six years, was named reserve champion with 21 points. Broad Run Cheese was third with 20 points.
In the three contests, Pearl Valley was second in the Ohio Swiss Festival contest, first in the Ohio State Fair contest and second in the Dairy Month contest.
Broad Run Cheese gained a first place in the Ohio Swiss Festival contest held Wednesday, Pearl Valley was second and Guggisberg and Steiner Cheese of Baltic tied for third. Guggisberg took third on a tie-breaker, which was determined by the flavor category.
Pearl Valley produces 12 varieties of cheese, which comes out to about 28,000 pounds of cheese a day. Chuck Ellis said besides Burch, Kurt Ellis is head of quality control, Tom Ellis, is a cheese maker in training and Nathan Skelley has been a cheese maker for two years. There is a staff of 40 employed at the factory.
“We pay attention to detail, the quality of milk and the producing of the cheese by doing our best to care for the cheese as it ages,” Ellis said. “We have a terrific production staff. It is a family tradition and we hope to continue the process. We added to the main entrance of the retail story, giving a little history of the company.
“We ship cheese mainly to the eastern part of the country. Our marble, Swiss cheese and lacy baby Swiss cheese are the favorites of customers. We also sell locally made cured meat products, cheese spreads and Amish Country butter. We purchase our milk from small family farms that rely on the sale of milk to make a living. People don’t realize that most of the best cheese makers are only located a few miles apart right in this area.”