MERCER COUNTY (KDKA) — Approximately 2 million pounds of Swiss cheese is sitting in an idle factory in Mercery County due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On a stretch of U.S. Route 19, about nine miles north of Mercer, cars and trucks rush by the Fairview Swiss Cheese Factory.
For four generations, this factory has been taking milk from western Pennsylvania dairy farms and turning out Swiss cheese.
But in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, the finished cheese is piling up in the factory with nowhere to go.
In 200 pound cases, 1,800-pound pallets, the cheese is stacked to the ceiling in the cold room of the warehouse and aging room.
How much cheese?
“Right around two million pounds or better,” Richard Koller said.
Under normal circumstances, this cheese would go to a packing company, get sliced or packaged under a variety of names, and sent out across the country.
Koller says, “It could go to Boston. It could go to St Louis, wherever.”
In fact, he’s happy to hear Florida is starting to reopen because his cheese finds a major home on Cuban sandwiches in the Sunshine State.
“Cheese is still moving through the grocery stores but that’s only part of the industry,” Koller said.
Koller and his sons, and his father before him, have weathered tough economic times and foreign competitors undercutting them.
But nothing like the coronavirus.
“This is something unbelievable, something unimaginable. I could not have come up with this in my worst nightmare,” Koller said.
With nothing going out of the factory, the Kollers have had to tell Schneider’s and Marburger dairies that they can’t take their milk.
He knows that’s causing the dairy farmers to dump milk and their hard-earned dollars.
“I hate to see them affected like this. I wish I could do better but I can’t,” says Koller.
Michael Koller says while they stopped production 10 days ago, they have not laid off any employees and don’t want to.
“We’ve been keeping everyone busy with maintenance and repairs,” Michael said. “We don’t want to be a company that does that to employees.”
The Kollers say the key is getting the consumer consuming again.
“Things need to open up. The east coast is ready and eager to go out to eat. We need restaurants, we need delis, we need mom and dad sub shops, everything,” Richard said.
In this plant and community, far from any coronavirus hot spot, the Kollers and their employees are hoping to Harrisburg will get life going again soon.
Hans Koller will be listening closely to Governor Tom Wolf on Friday.
“I would hope tomorrow we are on the first list. Because if it’s not, it’s borderline ridiculous,” Hans Koller said.
His dad says its more than just a hope, “If this goes on much longer, like a lot of businesses, we’re all going to be in peril,” Richard said.
But here’s one good thing about the two million pounds of cheese waiting to be shipped out.
“Like wine, it’s getting better as it sits here,” Richard said.