Cedar Valley Cheese wrapping up $15 million expansion

Rural Fredonia company’s 88,000-square-foot addition reinforces the message that products sold in store are fresh from the factory

CEDAR VALLEY CHEESE STORE owners Tracy Hiller (left) and Sue Okray stood with a platter of cheese inside their store, which opened in 2006. The store sells about 300 varieties of Wisconsin cheeses. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Cedar Valley Cheese will complete a $15 million expansion at the end of the month and its cheese store is seeking to reap the rewards.

“Our store is kind of like a destination. We have a lot of people coming from all over to check it out,” Cedar Valley Cheese store owner Tracy Hiller said. “We’re next to the factory, and people perceive the factory as fresh because you’re getting the product straight from the source. That’s a huge benefit for us.”

Last spring, work began on the 88,000-square-foot addition, which includes a warehouse with cold and dry storage, shred room, freight consolidating space, offices, maintenance shop, employee area and quality control lab.

Hiller’s husband Jeff, who is the third-generation owner of the factory, said this is the company’s biggest project since it opened in 1947. He also said the expansion will allow the factory to double its capabilities.

“With the current warehouse project, new packaging equipment, robotic automation and dedicated employees have made it possible for Cedar Valley Cheese to survive during these changing times,” he said. “In the 1950s, there were cheese plants at almost every intersection. Today, there are only a handful of family-owned cheese companies left.”

Cedar Valley Cheese products are used in frozen pizzas, by pizza chain restaurants, in frozen entrées and the shredding and slicing industry. The cheese is sold throughout the country and exported to Canada and Mexico.

The factory manufactures more than 42 million pounds of cheese per year — 85% mozzarella, 14% provolone and 1% string cheese. Those products, along with cream and whey sales, total more than $90 million in business annually.

“My favorite cheese is the provolone because it is so versatile,” said store co-owner Sue Okray. “But our No. 1 seller is the string cheese.”

Hiller agreed, adding that online cheese sales are trending in Florida, Arizona and Colorado.

Hiller and Okray opened the store at W3115 Jay Rd. in the Town of Fredonia in 2006 when the factory was undergoing a 2,000-square-foot expansion project.

While the store and factory are separate entities, Hiller said the businesses work hand-in-hand.

Hiller and Okray previously worked on school projects and functions together when their children attended grade school at Our Lady of the Lakes in Random Lake. They said it seemed like a natural fit to run the store.

Prior to operating the store, Okray worked in the food service industry and Hiller was a nurse.

“It’s a different kind of pressure managing the store,” Hiller said. “With nursing there’s a lot of rules and regulations, which is also the same on the food service side.”

They said business is steady this time of year but it’s not as busy as the holiday season. In December, the store sells about 5,000 pounds of cheese per week.

“Christmastime gets crazy and we can barely keep the cheese on the shelves because we have a lot of people sending gifts and we’re also busy filling corporate orders,” Hiller said. “Business is a little bit slower this time of year but it’s beginning to pick up. I think people are experiencing cabin fever and want to get out.”

Hiller said the store’s clientele is made up of locals and motorists from southern Wisconsin and Illinois who stop on their way to Elkhart Lake for Road America or the Osthoff Resort.

 “Being located along Highway 57 is a huge draw for us,” Hiller said.

In addition to selling approximately 300 varieties of Wisconsin cheeses, the store also sells ice cream, milk, jams, jellies, sausage, wine and even Green Bay Packers Cheesehead apparel.

Since 2010, the store began holding wine and cheese tastings on Saturdays, which have become a popular draw.

About four years ago, the store expanded its operations to serve sandwiches and soups.

“All of our food is homemade,” Hiller said. “We decided to start serving food after a Subway closed up the road and we felt there was a need to serve fresh food in the area.”

With the recent expansion, the store is going to move some of its behind-the-scenes operations to the current factory, including online shipping, storage and cheese cutting elements.

Ralph Hiller founded Cedar Valley Cheese in 1947. Because the original factory was in the path of a Highway 57 expansion project, the factory relocated to its current location on Jay Road. The factory went from two employees to more than 60 today.

Jeff Hiller said with the current expansion he hopes to hire more employees. The store has about 30 full-time and part-time employees.

Tracy Hiller said maintaining the family’s legacy is the most important aspect of operating the store.

“There’s a real rich history here, and we want to keep the tradition alive and well for years to come,” she said.

Her son Jarret and son-in-law Joe Horstmeier both work in the factory.

“We’ll see what happens. The kids tell us, ‘You can’t sell it,’” Hiller said. “It would be nice for it to stay in the family.”




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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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