SALEM, Ohio – Sometimes working with your family has certain perks.
Take Adam Mueller, Minerva Cheese Factory’s fifth generation. When he came up with a way to fine-tune the cheese process at his family’s business, he didn’t need to “sell” his idea to head honchos or put in requests for next year’s operating budget.
Instead, he told his family his plans, they thought it sounded good and he got to work.
Two and a half years later, he holds a patent for his idea.
Skipping a step. Typically, fresh cheese curds that have just been salted are pressed into 40-pound blocks. Then, later, they have to be cut into more manageable retail-sized pieces.
Mueller’s patented process takes out the middle step and directly presses the cheese into smaller quantities.
The savings come from several directions.
First, labor is reduced because that step is removed, Mueller said.
Secondly, there isn’t cheese loss. Before, when the cheese had to be cut from 40-pound to 1-pound blocks, a lot of the trimmings ended up being money thrown away. Now there aren’t trimmings, so there isn’t lost revenue.
In addition, his process allows for cheese to be pressed into various exact weights.
With these savings, he said his process saw a return on investment in four months.
Why it worked. Mueller isn’t the first person to try this.
But he said others failed because their processes affected the cheese’s taste and color.
The trick, he said, was to perfect the process so that consumers could not tell the difference between cheese created this way versus the traditional process.
Not only does he have a patent from the U.S. Department of Commerce to prove it worked, but he also entered his colby cheese in a contest. It came in second in the state.
Minerva Cheese, located in Minerva, Ohio, now does up to 40 percent of its private-label cheese this way, mainly deli horns and longhorns.
The rest of the cheese production is done the traditional way, in 40-pound blocks, because it is sold to processors who shred the cheese and prefer larger chunks.
Letting others in on it. Mueller is also working on licensing his patent to other cheese factories.
Although the patent was approved in September, he’s already working with several companies who want to use the process in various ways, such as cutting exact weight 10-pound loaves or cutting 6-foot loaves for slicing operations.
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