Except for the cheese sold in its
factory store located in the company’s
new museum in Milbank, Valley Cheese
does not put its own label on its products.
Instead, the company produces 640-pound
blocks of cheese for customers, who then
pick it up and send it to converting plants
for slicing or shredding and packaging.
“All the cutting equipment in those
plants are set up to slice 640 pound
blocks,” said Doug Wilke, CEO of Valley
Queen. “So they have less trim and more
efficiency in handling those sizes.”
In fact, 10,000 pounds of cheese is the
minimum size order the company produces
“That would be considered a specialty
product,” said Wilke.
Because Valley Queen produces cheese
for customers who put their name and
label on the package, the company
takes food safety very seriously. It has
implemented a robust environmental
testing program to check for pathogens.
“We have about 17 or 18 dairy scientists
in that plant constantly swabbing to
understand what’s going on in our plant,”
said Wilke. “It’s an added cost, but we need
Valley Queen sources its milk from
45 supplier farmers and handles its
own logistics, with its own tanker trucks
picking up milk whenever they are
dispatched. The company feels this is
a competitive advantage since it can
schedule the pickups and know when
the tankers full of milk will be arriving,
thus reducing the need for more intake
bays, as well as equipment to handle
All of Valley Queen’s cheese is sold
domestically, but it does sell about 50
percent of its whey protein to New Zealand.
The company’s customer abroad produces
skim milk powder and uses the whey for
standardizing the product.
Valley Queen decided a year-and-a-half
ago to invest $50 million in expanding its
plant, which will boost its milk processing
capability to more than five million pounds
per day. Included in the project is new
cheese-making equipment, dry processing
equipment, upgrades to its boiler and
utilities, a new wastewater treatment
system and more milk storage capacity.
“With the plant expansion, we are
expecting to need another 15,000 cows,”
said Wilke. “We determined we won’t
need new dairies because our existing
ones will be able to fill the need within the
next four years.”
Until then, Wilke said more milk is
getting pushed into South Dakota from
eastern states like Michigan.
The company already employs 250
people, but with the expansion, expects
to add about 10 percent more workers.
“We are planning to increase robotics in
our packaging area to do jobs that involve
heavy lifting,” said Wilke.
The expansion is expected to be
completed by the second quarter in
2019, with a start-up date in May or
June of that year.
Bel Brands USA
Bel Brands USA, owned by French
company the Bel Group, produces the
iconic red wax-wrapped Mini Babybels
in its plant located in Brookings, South
Dakota. The facility, which is a quarter of a
mile long at 170,000 square feet, employs
approximately 280 people to make 1.7
million Mini Babybels each day. In fact, if
the pieces of the semi-soft cheese rounds
produced each day were lined up, they
would stretch for 40 miles.
Six different flavors are produced
in the Brookings plant: Original, Light,
Gouda, White Cheddar, Sharp Original and
Mozzarella. However, only one flavor is
produced each day for 20 hours, and then
the plant is shut down for cleaning the
remainder of the day.
The plant primarily sources its milk
from two dairy farms — owned by Land
O’ Lakes and Dairy Farmers of America
— that are within 20 miles, and receives
10-12 semi-loads (approximately 450,000
pounds) of milk each day. All milk received
is tested to ensure it meets the plant’s
standards, and is then transferred to one
of the facility’s five refrigerated silos. The
entire Mini Babybel production process
takes roughly 32 hours, which spans from
the time milk is received to the cheese
being packaged. The whey that is produced
from the plant’s cheese production is sold
The plant currently operates one line,
but the facility’s design can accommodate
a second line, if necessary. The current
Bel Brands USA’s state-of-the-art plant was built in Brookings, South Dakota
Bel Brands USA, owned by French
company the Bel Group, produces
the iconic red wax-wrapped Mini
Babybels in its plant located in
Brookings, South Dakota.