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Gossner’s perfect Swiss cheese—a long-time Cache Valley delicacy

May 12th, 2014 Posted in Arts and Life

Story & Photos by Sarah Romero

LOGAN—For more than 45 years, Gossner Foods  has provided cheese-lovers in Cache Valley and around the globe with top-quality Swiss cheese.

This is an accomplishment to be proud of—making top-grade Swiss cheese is more complicated than some may think. It requires time, the perfect environment and, most importantly, an expert cheese-maker to monitor it closely and carefully.



Ken Romney has been that expert for 34 years.

Born in an LDS colony in Mexico, Romney worked at his father’s small cheese factory until he was 17. “I was raised making cheese,” he said.

He came to the United States to gain citizenship, and eventually settled in Cache Valley, drawn to the cheese-making industry the rich ag land provides. When he was hired at Gossner Foods, Edwin Gossner himself became Romney’s teacher and mentor.

“He could be tough at times,” Romney said. “He was demanding. But at the same time, he could be kind. He knew the demand that it took on a person to make good-quality Swiss cheese, so he demanded that of his employees as well. He was a hard worker and he expected that from his employees, too.”

Cheese-maker Gossner moved to Cache Valley in the 1940s, finding a climate and environment that mirrored his native Switzerland, and that was ideal for making authentic Swiss cheese. “Within five years,” the Gossner website says, “he had built up what was at the time the largest Swiss cheese-making factory in the world, producing 120 two hundred pound wheels of cheese a day.”

Romney worked as Gossner’s apprentice “cheese tester” for four years, learning the extensive “curing” process Swiss cheese goes through to become a quality product.

Romney said the curing process takes at least 60 days. The production line at the Gossner plant, at the corner of 1000 North and 1000 West, uses fresh milk from 165 different dairy farms to make the cheese. Once it’s mixed, pressed and soaked in a salt brine for 16 hours, it’s transferred to a cooling room. When the cheese is about 20 days old, it’s taken to the “warm room,” where the cheese reacts with the heat to form carbon dioxide gas. This gas creates small pockets, or holes, in the cheese, which are known as the “eyes,” Romney said.

While in the warm room, the 250- to 300-pound blocks of cheese must be flipped over to allow the gases to run evenly through the cheese, he said. After three to four weeks, the eyes have formed, and the cheese is transferred back to a cooler. The cold environment makes the cheese dormant and stops the eye-formation process. From there, it goes to “de-boxing,” where it’s prepared for cutting.

Sixty days after its birth, the new Swiss cheese is ready to be sold or shipped to locations around the world.

Tyler Udy, a member of the sales team, said Gossner Foods ships cheese to all 50 U.S. states, and to 14 other countries in North America, South America and Asia.


MILLIONS OF POUNDS of Swiss cheese curing.

Gossner died in 1987, but Romney said he would be proud if he saw the factory today. “It was a really small company when I started in 1980, and I’ve seen it grow into a global company,” he said.

Udy said Gossner Foods produces 60 million pounds of Swiss cheese each year—18 percent of the total Swiss produced in the United States.

But all that cheese must be carefully monitored through the curing process if it’s going to be the top-quality product that Gossner Foods promises.

That’s Romney’s job. Romney said his main task is to test the cheese when it’s been in the warm room for about 40 days. He cuts a small opening in the cardboard covering the cheese, inserts an 8-inch-long tool into the top of the cheese block, and extracts a small sample. He inspects the piece for the quality and eye formation, and “grades” it according to its appearance.

Romney said the ideal “A”-grade piece of cheese has a “brilliant shine” to it, dime-sized eyes that are perfectly round, and is flexible, “almost like an elastic band.”

Romney said he tests about 100 vats of cheese every day. He said it’s crucial that he properly evaluates the cheese, because Gossner Foods depends on him to track its progress.

“If I don’t do my job right, then Gossner Foods will not make money,” he said. “I know that. It’s something that Mr. Gossner made me understand when I took over.”


SWISS SAMPLE—Gregory extracts a test sample.

But it’s not an easy job.

Romney manages a crew of eight other cheese testers. Greg Gregory is Romney’s “right-hand man” and tests the cheese on Sundays—Romney’s day off. Gregory says judging the entire block of cheese from an eight-inch sample can be a difficult task.

“I’m still learning,” he said. “The Swiss cheese makes it difficult. Some cheese comes on fast, some cheese comes on slow. There’s a lot that goes in to it.”

Gregory said Romney still makes mistakes sometimes, even though he’s been testing cheese for 34 years. But most of the time he gets it right.

“Someday maybe I’ll be as good as he is,” Gregory said. “He’s seen a lot of cheese in his day.”

Romney said testing cheese from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., six days a week could seem monotonous to an outsider, “but it’s something that changes every day.”

“The cheese is a live organism, so even though it may look the same, it’s not the same every day,” Romney said. “I like the challenge that Swiss cheese is to become a good quality cheese.”

It’s a challenge, he said, “because the cheese sometimes seems to have a mind of its own.”


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