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Kalona Cheese Factory to stop churning

Owner said Kalona Cheese House will remain open despite the closed factory

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By Alison Sullivan, The Gazette

KALONA — The cheese factory near Kalona will no longer produce its well-known “squeaky” fresh cheese curds. Officials announced Thursday Twin County Dairy Inc. — also known as the Kalona Cheese Factory — has closed its production facility.

Ankeny-based Proliant Dairy Ingredients, which shares ownership with owners John and Joanne Roetlin of Kalona, said the closure follows “significant change within the dairy industry.”

“From advanced food safety and quality assurance requirements to more stringent environmental regulations that would require substantial capital investment,” said Gary Weihs, president of Proliant Dairy Ingredients, in a news release. “As a result of the changing environment, we have decided to close the Kalona facility. This is a difficult decision and we will continue to explore other opportunities for the facility.”

The facility employed 50 people. Impacted employees will receive compensation, severance pay and job placement assistance, the release said.

John Roetlin wouldn’t comment on the factory’s fate.

“It is what it is,” Roetlin said when contacted Thursday. He added the Kalona Cheese House, the factory’s store, will remain open despite the factory’s closure.

A group of Amish and Mennonite farmers established the operation as co-op in 1946, according to the website. The farmers hired Swiss immigrant John Roetlin, Sr. to run the factory, which opened in 1947.

When Kathy Scheuerman first heard the factory might close, her heart sank. The Iowa City resident has long family connection to the facility where her grandmother, mother and sister worked. The 62-year-old remembers as a child visiting her grandma and watching her slice up cheese at the factory.

The Kalona factory processed more than 1.2 million pounds of milk per day to make white cheddar cheese, according to Proliant’s website.

When news of the factory’s demise spread, devoted fans flocked to social media to express their sadness. Iowa City resident Katy Brown created a “Save the Kalona Cheese Factory” Facebook page in solidarity. The page had more than 2,000 likes by Thursday afternoon. Posts promoted the hashtag: “Save the Squeak.”

“I’m so sad about this,” said one Facebook commenter. “I’m seriously going to cry. These curds have been present at very single family get together that I can remember.”

The cheese factory and store wasn’t just a business but a fixture in the community and a unique attraction, Scheuerman said. The factory’s location along Highway 1 meant travelers — both regulars and new visitors — could hop out of their car and grab some cheese.

“It was an integral part of the Kalona community,” she said. “It was something special for all of the people who lived there whether they were Amish, Mennonite or not.”

Denise Easley of Cedar Rapids said she was saddened by the factory’s potential closure and the loss of the locally made cheese curds. Easley said she’d recently been to the store and noticed the curds for sale were from an outside distributor and not the Kalona facility.

“My kids grew up on these darn things so we’ve been going for 25 years,” the 57-year-old said. “You drive to Kalona to get the cheese curds. It’s just tradition.”

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