It’s a Bit Cheesy But That’s What Makes it Great.
Tri-State Dairy, located on Wendell Avenue in Hicksville, is focused on making great quality cheeses that are farm to plate fresh.
“Farm to plate is a big thing, and we are proud we can say exactly which farm our milk comes from,” said Tri-State owner Nelson Hershberger. “I feel it is very important to support local farms. There have been so many changes recently and there aren’t a lot of small farms left. Right now, we get all our milk from one farm (in Michigan).” Hershberger knows a lot about what it takes to make great cheese – starting with the milk. He grew up on a farm, where his father shipped to milk for Steiner Cheese in Baltic, Ohio. “It goes back to what I grew up with,” Hershberger said. “I’ve always been fascinated by how you can take milk and make so many different products from it by adding and removing different things.”
In 2004, Hershberger started working at Steiner Cheese and met fellow employee Stanley Mullet, who would later become the co-founder of Tri-State. Hershberger became head cheesemaker at the plant, but eventually decided to leave. Steiner closed afterwards.
Mullet and a group of farmers then approached him about possibly establishing a cheese factory in Hicksville. “When Steiner closed, I had a connection here,” Hershberger said of the village. He said the quality and availability of the milk supply really sold him on Hicksville for the location of Tri-State Dairy. “It’s also, as far as distribution, a good hub,” he said. “There’s not a lot of cheese distributors in the area.”
Hershberger and Mullet purchased the property for Tri-State Dairy on Wendell Avenue in 2011. A lot of work needed to be to the building, but more than a year later it was time to make cheese. “We originally started with muenster,” said Hershberger, who bought out Mullet’s share in the company in 2021 to become the sole owner.
Today, there 16 different varieties of cheese including muenster pepper jack, green onion, black pepper, peppercorn bacon, habanero, jalapeno, jalapeno bacon, horseradish, colby jack, colby, garlic and herb and others. “We make our cheese without a lot of processing,” Hershberger said. “We don’t break down the butterfat as much as others. We use a good Grade A milk supply.”
There has been a lot of changes and growth since Tri-State began and more is yet to come.
Tri-State has gone from selling cheese from a small display case in the front of the plant, to selling them at its retail site –Hershberger’s Fine Foods – across the street, other stores and locations. The company has its own delivery van that goes out three times a week to retailers within a three-hour radius of Hicksville. “We’re in 150 different stores,” Hershberger said. “We have more we’re working on and hope to ramp up this year.” Individuals also may purchase cheese through the website, tristatecheese.com. “We ship cheese to Miami, Fla., every week,” he said. “We have a store up in Michigan, where we have people from Canada who come to buy our cheese. We have one guy from Washington state that we ship to. He orders constantly.”
To meet customers’ needs and requests, there are several plans for the future at Tri-State.
“We’re pushing to do curds to go to delivery and to stores as well,” Hershberger said. “We’re focused on the curds… The curds will be a gas station/convenience store variety and even for restaurants. It opens up a whole other market here. We are focused on doing more with what we have. Convenience is everything. People like to grab and go. We will start with just a few varieties – make sure we have them perfect – and go from there.” The retail site, Hershberger’s Fine Foods, also is working to fill in a need for the Hicksville area. The store also houses Turnover Creations. While the store’s main focus is cheese and pies, there is a lot more items inside, Hershberger said. He said since Hicksville no longer has a grocery store, they have been trying to fill that need by offering some grocery items at Hershberger Fine Foods as well. A walk-in cooler has been installed for the customers’ convenience, allowing more Tri-State Dairy cheese to be highlighted along with other grocery items. Hershberger Fine Foods is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Hershberger said for the immediate future Tri-State Dairy is going to focus on what they have in-house. There are several longer projects planned as well..
The company purchased adjoining properties several years ago with plans for some expansions. Late in 2021, the company also purchased the building on the corner of Wendell Avenue and Edgerton Street.
“We’re outgrowing the pie business and need a bigger area to cut and wrap,” Hershberger explained. “It’s a long-term project.”
To learn more about Tri-State Cheese, visit its website at tristatecheese.com or stop by Hershberger Fine Foods at 304 Wendell Avenue in Hicksville for some delectable delights.