Dairy Logue

by Kathie Canning Dairy R&D Editor

In Search of Dairy Artifacts
Today’s cheese industry owes a lot to the town of Cuba, N.Y., and that’s something Nico van Zwanenberg doesn’t want folks to forget. The former cheesemaker is anxious to preserve Cuba’s — and all of Western New York’s — rich dairy history for generations to come. In fact, van Zwanenberg leads a committee that hopes to open a cheese museum in Cuba.
In the early 1900s, Cuba and its surrounding communities were home to a “big, big conglomeration of tiny little cheese factories,” van Zwanenberg explains. “Even as recently as the 1940s and 1950s, there were hundreds of these little plants.”
From the early 1900s to the middle of the 20th century, a cheese market operated in Cuba’s Kinney Hotel. A few men met weekly to set the price for cheese throughout the United States.
As transportation and processing technology improved, however, many of the plants merged operations. By 1964, says van Zwanenberg, Cuba could claim just one remaining cheese plant. The plant, once owned by the van Zwanenberg family, now houses Empire Cheese, a subsidiary of Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese.
Although New York still boasts a strong cheese industry, Wisconsin and California now lead the nation in production. And Green Bay, Wis., now operates the National Cheese Exchange, the modern version of Cuba’s old cheese market.
The museum idea “has been a conversation thing for many, many years,” says van Zwanenberg. “We thought maybe we ought to do something before this is all forgotten.”
Ultimately, the Cuba Cheese Museum Committee hopes to showcase not only the history of dairy processing in Cuba, but also the history of cheesemaking and milk production in general.
The committee is seeking dairy relics from the Cuba area and beyond. “We are interested in artifacts, slide shows, movies, pictures, books, magazines, advertising — anything concerning milk and cheese manufacturing, no matter where it comes from,” says van Zwanenberg.
If you have a dairy artifact you’d like to contribute for the museum, contact van Zwanenberg at Nvanz@aol.com, or visit the committee’s Web site at http://members.aol.com/CubaCheeseMuseum.
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