Say Cheese!

Because it’s all about cheese. The art of cheese. The art of cheesemaking.

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Photos courtesy of Heini’s

Once upon a time, the Swiss made cheese in their homes. They carried the cheese down the mountains on racks strapped to their backs or on a cart pulled by St. Bernard dogs. German and Swiss villages would hold annual cheese festivals where the cheeses were graded and auctioned, with the most select cheeses going to the highest bidder.

These days, Ohio Magazine would award that honor to Leroy Keim, Head Cheesemaker at Heini’s Cheese Chalet and named Best Cheesemaker in 2014. Keim began crafting his cheeses at the age of 14, after finishing his 8th grade education. To watch Leroy and his efficient team of five make cheese each day at Heini’s Chalet, you need to arrive early. Any later than 10:00am and you’ll miss it. They work with such precision that you know they’ve mastered their craft.


I cannot possibly describe the intricate process necessary to create the cheeses from the curds & whey, as much as I’d like to. But Jack, who leads the free tours of the cheesemaking process, knows exactly what they’re doing.

“They begin with local, non-hormonal natural milk. They take out the cream and heat it to 161 degrees Fahrenheit. Kills the bacteria in 60 seconds.”

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Jack went on to describe the mechanics of making cheese while I watched the crew of five move seamlessly through the motions of creating the cheese. It happened so quickly that if I’d arrived any later, I would have missed it.

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After Jack’s tour, my daughter and I were greeted by Lisa Troyer, Executive Vice President, and Missy Horsfall, Director of Tourism Relations. They graciously lead me to their conference room where they told me the history of Heini’s.

Lisa and her sister Lee Anne are 3rd-generation owners of what was originally to be named Heidi’s Cheese Chalet. In the 1930’s, Lisa’s grandfather John (Hans) Dauwalder, who had emigrated to the U.S. to display his artisan cheese talents, returned to Switzerland to marry his long-distance sweetheart, Lili. They returned to the U.S. in 1948 to help John’s brother Crist with building his Bunker Hill Cheese business.

Crist returned to Switzerland and Lili had hundreds of labels printed with the name Heidi’s. But another area business was using the name Heidi’s, so John and Lili had to change the name. Being the resourceful and thrifty woman that she was, Lili decided that they could easily change the lettering on the labels to Heini’s, which could be short for the German name Heinrich, and so Lili and her children used a black marker to change all the d’s to n’s and Heini’s was born.

I like her gumption. So Swiss/German to me. 🙂

In 1962, Lisa and Lee Anne’s parents Peter and Nancy took over the business and expanded it into an empire. Lisa described her father as a visionary. He invented yogurt cheese, which is a specialty of Heini’s still today. He also had the lucrative idea of offering samplings. This innovative idea helped to establish tourism in the area known as “Amish Country.” Peter and his wife continued to create and innovate and soon buses were coming to Holmes County and stopping at Heini’s to sample the cheeses.

My daughter and I hit the sampling floor, too, trying nearly every kind they had displayed.

Our favorites included:

Salted Caramel Cream Cheese

Peach Cream Cheese

Leroy Keim’s award-winning Gouda

Raw Milk Yogurt Cultured Cheese (Lactose free)

Habanero Cheese

Root Beer Float Cheese

Chocolate Cream Cheese

Sundried Tomato & Basil Yogurt Cheese

Lacy Baby Swiss

Orange Pineapple Cream Cheese Fudge

Smoked Horseradish Cheese

Blueberry Cheesecake Cream Cheese

Raw Milk Cheddar Cheese

And the best feta cheese I’ve EVER had.

My lactose-intolerant daughter took two Lactaid tablets and tried them all. One taste of the Blueberry Cheesecake cream cheese and she proclaimed, “That cheese is oh-my-God amazing!”

She was right. So I had her pose for a picture. And you know what comes next: I told her, “Say cheese!”


What type of cheese would you have Leroy Keim make for you?



11 responses to “Say Cheese!

  1. What a yummy review!! I HAVE to HAVE some of that cheese! Thanks for telling us about these industrious people.

  2. I love the story about changing the labels with a marker. With resourcefulness like that, no wonder the company succeeded. I love all kinds of cheese, so a visit to the factory would be a fun day out for me. 🙂

  3. What a great story. I like the resourcefulness they used when they changed the name. And salted caramel cheese … wow I would never have thought of that. Salted caramel is one of my favourite flavours. I’d be keen to have a go.

  4. I love cheese factories, especially when they break out the samples, like yours did, Juliann. You hardly need to buy any after that.:) We have a small factory near us called the Rogue Creamery, which surprisingly puts out world class blue cheeses that consistently win top national and international prizes. Peggy and i make a point of visiting every few weeks and restocking! –Curt

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