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From father, to son, to granddaughters, the family tradition of cheese making and the dream of their founding father continues at Guggisberg Cheese. When they came to the Doughty Valley in Ohio, instead of leaving the beauty of Europe behind them, Alfred and Margaret Guggisberg brought it with them to create a small piece of paradise to share with everyone that visits and developed a delicious cheese recognized around the world.
Alfred Guggisberg saw cheese making as an art form. Even at the young age of 16 he understood that in order to develop his craft, he would need to learn and study alongside the masters, so he went to the Swiss Federal "Molkereishulle" (the cheese maker's institute).
When school was finished, Alfred spent years making cheese throughout Europe and parts of Africa before coming over to the United States in 1947. Seeing Alfred's skill and knowledge as an asset, local Amish farmers lured Alfred to the Doughty Valley in Charm, Ohio where he took over Doughty Valley Cheese and grew the business to become Guggisberg Cheese in 1950.
Alfred soon discovered that a creamier, milder blend of Swiss cheese was more appealing to the American palate. His wife, Margaret, came up with the name "Baby Swiss" as the small 4 lb. wheels being made were significantly smaller than the 200 lb. regular Swiss wheels and also had smaller holes throughout.
"Everyone tries to duplicate our original recipe for Baby Swiss," said Ursula Guggisberg-Bennett, Marketing Coordinator for Guggisberg Cheese and granddaughter of Alfred and Margaret. "No one has been able to duplicate it."
The Doughty Valley area is particularly important to the Guggisberg's cheese making process. "There are minerals in the soil that give the cow's milk its flavor. We get most of our milk from the local farms," said Guggisberg. The minerals were deposited in the ground by glaciers that carved out the region long ago.
Guggisberg has been awarded the title of U.S. Swiss Cheese Champion for 2017-2018 and they are the World Champion for Swiss for 2016-2017.
The Guggisberg Cheese retail store gives visitors a front row seat for the cheese making process. If you arrive before noon you can see the cheese being made. Large windows show everything from the milk entering the vat to the finished cheese wheel on the other side.
Customers can sample different cheeses as they try to find a favorite. The store also carries some unique varieties like Ghost Pepper Cheese and Scorpion Pepper Cheese for shoppers with a taste for the hot and spicy.
"Grandpa had extremely high standards when it came to cheese making," said Ursula. "Those standards were instilled in my dad (President of Guggisberg Cheese, Richard Guggisberg) and he has built the brand into what it is today."
Ursula remembered a story of a time when her grandpa Alfred was out on the road. The weather was bad, and he knew he wouldn't get back in time to start the next step in the cheese making, but Margaret decided to do it herself so it would get done. That was just the type of personality she had. "She was the most hard working woman I have ever known," Ursula added, and it's evidenced by the fact that Margaret decided to open a restaurant at the age of 60.
The Chalet in the Valley restaurant is within walking distance across the road and was started by Margaret in 1983. She told Alfred that she would love to open a restaurant featuring recipes she grew up with in Europe. The menu combines traditional foods from Margaret's Austrian and Swiss roots and Alfred's Swiss heritage. The two first met when Margaret came to Switzerland to work.
The charming woodwork in The Chalet in the Valley was crafted by Alfred Guggisberg. The most ornate piece is the wooden chandelier that hangs in the center of the room. Handmade cuckoo clocks adorn the walls and there is a small retail area with fun souvenirs to bring home (along with a piece of their heavenly German Chocolate cake to go).
The Chalet in the Valley offers a Sunday buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. "This is unique to the area because so many other places are closed on Sundays," Ursula added. Stopping in for the buffet means the opportunity to try Chalet favorites from Chef Jeff Allison such as: Bistro Filet, glazed ham, roasted turkey, Bratwurst, breaded shrimp, cabbage rolls, German potato salad and more. The menu also features a fresh soup and salad bar and quick sandwich options during the week, perfect for a lunch break. Be sure to stop in this summer to sample new menu items for 2017.
A banquet room downstairs can seat anywhere from 80-100 guests and can be requested for private parties, club gatherings and retreats. The banquet room features similar Swiss dcor, a large fireplace and private access to the room from outside.
There is plenty to walk around and see as you stretch your legs, eat and feel refreshed. Goats and a llama prance and play up on the hill, there's a fountain garden and gazebo where you can sit a spell and picnic tables and a grassy area where you can walk the dogs if you brought them along and let the kids run around and play while you have a picnic.
The business has become what it is today under the operation and guidance of President Richard Guggisberg and the family continues to be a part of the Guggisberg tradition as Ursula's sister, Ashton Guggisberg-Womacks works as the store manager. Alfred and Margaret are no longer with us (Alfred passed in 1985 and Margaret in 2015), but there is a lovely place to sit and reflect, dedicated to their memory in the fountain garden.
"It is very much a family business and we all work together. We want every visitor to feel like family too," said Ursula.
Guggisberg Cheese is located at 5060 SR 557, Millersburg. You can watch the cheese being made, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to noon through the viewing windows. Regular store hours are Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information call 330-893-2500, toll free 1-800-262-2505 or visit www.babyswiss.com.
Chalet in the Valley is located just across the street from Guggisberg Cheese. Restaurant hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and they are closed Monday. For more information call 330-893-2550 or visit www.chaletinthevalley.com.