A welcome sight on a long stretch of Route 5, at 857 Main Road in Corfu, is Kutter's Cheese Factory Store. Epicures, bus loads of tourists, wine lovers, cheese tasters and other customers make regular stops at the retail shop because they like what it offers.
The variety is impressive. Blocks of Swiss cheese, wheels of jack cheese, spreads, curds, cheesecakes, specialty cheeses like Stilton with lemon or double-cream Spanish cheddar, crackers, cranberry horseradish sauce, New York maple syrup, eggs, fresh local apples, hot mustard, bologna and more.
The success of Kutter's Cheese Factory Store and its positive impact on local agriculture are why it is being honored Saturday by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce as Agricultural Business of the Year for 2009.
It is also a "satellite winery" of Hunt Country Wines and carries its New York wines exclusively. Wine sales at stores offering local farm and dairy products are allowed under New York Department of Agriculture and Markets law. In fact, at one time, dairymen grew grapes for vintners to augment their income.
Even so, the retail pairing isn't commonplace, according to 77-year-old Tony Kutter, son of the late founder, Leo.
"I've always been adament about promoting wine and cheese," Kutter said. "We also supply a lot of wineries with cheese for wine tasting."
In fact, the business ships worldwide, from California to Taiwan.
The small Corfu store property is leased from the adjacent Yancey's Fancy cheese producers as well as the equipment to make its own cheese. Kutter's produces fine cheddars and other cheese varieties, plus it sells products made by others, including some imports, like Port Salut from France.
Kutter lives just two houses away from the store, but is retired from the business. So is his 80-year-old brother, Richard, who lives in the area but spends winters in Florida.
Yet Tony remains active in the industry. He's on the board of directors of the New York State Cheesemaker Association and usually attends the Cheesemakers Convention. He's proud to note that the association pays half the salary of a professor at Cornell University to fund ag research.
Kutter says he's happy to work with the chamber of commerce to promote agritourism and he's honored to receive the chamber award. It recognizes a business that is now 63 years old.
In a way, it started in Bavaria, before the Great War. Leo (1893-1962) was born there and as a young man, his chosen vocation was cheese making. He was especially good at crafting the pungent Limburger variety.
Then World War I came and he served Germany. Two days prior to his being discharged, he was captured by the French and became a prisoner of war. But once the "War to End All Wars" was over, he returned to his roots. As the German economy faltered, inflation ran amouk and panic began setting in. He left for Buffalo, USA, thanks to the sponsorship of his sister. That was 1923-24.
Buffalo before the Great Depression was a boomtown, boasting large steel plants, flour mills and plenty of railroads lines to further commerce. He went to Wyoming County to find work in the dairy industry. Although the Great Depression created a shortage of milk, according to Tony, WWII created a shortage of sons to milk the cows.
Some historians claim there were more than 20 cheese factories in Western New York at the time. Leo told dairymen to bring him their milk, or let him milk their cows and otherwise make himself useful. What he really wanted, was to start his own cheese-making business.
He did so in Cowlesville in 1947, purposely on a main route with great access and visability. Tony and Richard learned young how to scrub vats and clean up equipment and the grounds after school.
After Leo's death, then-29-year-old Tony, a Korean War veteran, and his brother took over the business. It was hard, familiar work.
Early last year, they approached Brian Bailey and his wife, Heather, about buying the retail store. Brian had been a business partner of the Kutter brothers since 1995.
In November, they sealed the deal and along with Christine Adamczak, formed BHC Cheese, Inc. The trio constitutes the board of directors, with Heather as president, Brian as vice president of operations, and Adamczak as vice president of sales and marketing.
"It's an honor to be recognized, to be part of a business that is being carried on successfully after 63 years," Heather Bailey said.
Tony Kutter takes pride in creating a mighty "stinky" Limburger, the first cheese he learned to make, and claims more and more people are rediscovering it. Now with Kutter's Cheese Factory Store in award-winning hands, he's probably planning his 32nd trip to Russia.
There's a strong possiblity he'll be tempted to promote Limburger and vodka. The bold pairing does seems fitting. "Na zda-ro-vye!"