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Cheese Reporter: Kusel Celebrates 175 Years Of Working Alongside Industry – Conversations Key To Longevity

Watertown, WI—Back even before there were cheese factories in Wisconsin, there was a Kusel Equipment ready to help change the way cheese was made. 

Wisconsin became a state in 1848. A year later, Kusel opened its doors to serve area farmers as a local hardware store in the city of Watertown. 175 years later, the company has grown to be a worldwide leader in cheesemaking equipment with installations in 40-plus countries.  David Smith’s parents (Gary and Jan) purchased Kusel in 1973. Today, he is the current president and owner.

“It’s really amazing when you think about it,” Smith said. “All the things that have happened over the course of 175 years. As with any relationship, communication is the key to longevity. This is very much a relationship industry. The key to any successful relationship is open communication, working together, and delivering on what you’ve promised.”

We have the experience and engineering team that provides solutions, and then, we build that equipment, those solutions, to last a lifetime. That’s the tradition. And that has never changed in the 175 years of Kusel.

Gene Curtis

Kusel Equipment

Kusel’s promise is to make time-tested solutions that last a lifetime.

“We have built strong relationships with the industry,” Smith said. “We visit our customers and see the same finishing table we sold them back in the 1960s. “On one hand, we really would like to help update that equipment but, on the other, we are very proud that it has lasted 60 years.”

Gene Curtis is the director of sales and marketing at Kusel. Santino Piazza is the sales engineer for cheese equipment. Both came to Kusel roughly two years ago.

“We have some very valued relationships that have lasted a very long time,” Curtis said. “But as always, much of the industry is generational, and transferring those relationships to the new team at Kusel, and at the cheese plants, has been challenging despite that generation having grown up making cheese on Kusel equipment.”

Kusel’s product line is primarily in the open vats and open tables part of the industry for hard and American-style cheeses.

“Our equipment still requires some manual cheesemaking skills,” Piazza said. “It’s not just a time sequence where you push a button and in exactly 42 minutes you unload and move on to the next step. There is a craftsmanship still involved for most of our equipment.”

Recent improvements in terms of workforce labor and efficiencies have been made to improve Kusel’s curd handling and cheese pressing lines.

“We’ve created efficiencies to our equipment specifically where the craftsmanship of a cheese maker isn’t required,” Piazza said. “Particularly in our curd handling equipment. One person can manage all of the curd produced needed for the day.”

Recently, social media has driven increased interest in the company’s Cottage cheese equipment, driving more requests for information about these systems.

Stainless steel floor drains are another part of Kusel’s business with which milk processors are familiar with.

“Floor drains continue to expand and have a bright future,” Smith said. “We cut our teeth here in the dairy industry. By bringing the first stainless industrial floor drains to the market, now we are in other industries like pharmaceutical and food processing. We continue to expand that product line. We are making it easier to specify and place.”

Conversations Lead To Solutions

The cheese equipment line is the tradition at Kusel.

“We continue to upgrade our lines and look at changes whenever they warrant,” Smith said. “We’ve adapted to the changes in the industry. But not big, radical, changes because, essentially, cheesemaking hasn’t changed much. Like cheesemaking itself, our line is more of an evolution than a revolution.”

Curtis believes Kusel has never changed its cheesemaking equipment line philosophy.

“Kusel has always been about creating solutions,” Curtis said. “That, as far as I’ve seen, has never changed.”

Kusel’s website is reportedly very popular with visitors from all over the world. Visitors request all sorts of material from the website but, according to Curtis, they never understand the total value of Kusel Equipment.

“We can’t possibly place all the possible custom scenarios on our website. We use our website to get to that conversation. If we can get there, that’s where you’ll find the true value of working with Kusel,” Curtis said. “We have an experience engineering team that provides solutions, and then, we build that equipment, those solutions, to last a lifetime. That’s the tradition. And that has never changed in the 175 years of Kusel.” 

Kusel specializes in taking current equipment and adding concepts and ideas that uniquely fit the customers’ needs, Smith said. 

“That’s one of our sweet spots. When a customer confides in us of the real problem they are having,” Smith said. “That’s where we can step in and say, ‘Have you ever looked at it this way?’ That’s how some of our equipment was originally developed. We’ve worked alongside the cheese maker for 175 years. Working together to solve the problems.”

Kusel has made a conscious decision to stay true to the company’s roots. 

“We continue to solve problems for customers with our product line as well as creating one-off pieces unique to their needs,” Curtis said. “That’s where we continue to shine. To have a conversation. What do you want? What do you need? How can we help?”

Kusel Culture

Curtis and Piazza recently came from outside the industry. 

The two had to learn the ropes of the industry, with a view things move slower here and that things were not going to happen overnight. 

“It’s much different than the industry we came from,” Piazza said. “There are so many variables that affect this industry and the cheese makers’ bottomline.” 

After almost two years at his new company, Curtis said there was never a need for a culture shift at Kusel. “We work well as a team,” Curtis said. “We have a phenomenal environment here, with folks that really care about the work that they are doing. It’s an open communication.” 

“We have always been blessed with a depth of experience. That is part of the culture here at Kusel.” Smith said. “We also have some newness too, a couple of new faces, technology, as well as fresh looks at some existing practices.” 

Smith said the company is better aligned to face the future of the cheese industry than ever before.

That’s how some of our equipment was originally developed. We’ve worked alongside the cheese maker for 175 years. Working together to solve their problems.

David Smith

Kusel Equipment

“It’s very much a long-haul vision. We have never looked short-term. Always with an eye on our heritage,” Smith said. 

Smith said he is proud to carry the tradition of providing for Kusel customers, Kusel employees, and as part of the Watertown community for 175 years.  “We truly value our relationships. We want to provide stability going into the future. We’ll have to change and adapt but we are pretty loyal to our heritage.”

For more information on Kusel Equipment, visit

Courtesy of the Cheese Reporter 2024 Edition.