The Chuck Eggert family, which last year sold Tualatin, Ore.-based Pacific Foods to Campbell Soup Co. for a reported $700 million, has purchased Willamette Valley Cheese Co. of Salem in a move that will take the cheese company organic and considerably increase its production volume.

Charlie Eggert, farm manager for the Eggert family’s four dairies, said the purchase “seemed like a good partnership for us with our dairies and the kinds of things we are trying to do to create jobs in the Willamette Valley.”

“We are just interested in keeping good things around and we’ve always had a lot of respect for Willamette Valley Cheese and the products they create,” he said.

Under terms of the sale, Willamette Valley Cheese Co.’s Rod Volbeda will stay on as facilities manager and cheese maker at the Salem location.

“The idea of staying the same and doing what we’ve always done and then transitioning to organic just made me get excited again,” Volbeda said.

“It was getting hard going by myself,” he said when asked why he sold. “The debt load I had was getting up there, and I’m at the age where I need to slow down a little bit.”

Volbeda, 53, said the company will continue producing its line of award-winning cheeses, including Creamy Havarti, Eola Jack, Fontina, Gouda and Cheddar, and will continue operating its tasting room just west of Salem at 8105 Wallace Road NW.

He declined to give a dollar amount of the sale, but said he was satisfied with the terms. “They gave me a very good job to run this facility and their plan is to build more small cheese operations, and I’m hoping to be involved in that.”

Willamette Valley Cheese Co.’s volume is expected to increase five-fold under the new ownership, he said, from its current 10,000 pounds a week to 50,000 pounds once the transition is complete.

“It is still going to be single-herd milk supply,” he said. “It is just the cows will not be on this facility, so we will not be farmstead.”

Willamette Valley Cheese Co. sold the last of its cows two months ago and has been purchasing milk from Darigold since. That arrangement will stay in place for the near future, according to Eggert.

“We haven’t made the transition yet (to supplying the cheese company’s milk),” Eggert said. “We are working on the details and going through the process with Oregon Tilth on what it is going to take to turn organic and use our milk.

“We don’t have any plans right now as far as when the changeover will take place, but that will ultimately be our goal,” he said. “It is a complicated process and we have never made organic cheese, so we are going to learn as we go.”

The Eggert family operates two organic dairies in the Wilsonville area, one in the Albany area and one near McMinnville. It sells most of its milk to Organic Valley.

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