About Us

History of Valley Queen Cheese

Two Swiss immigrants and an unexpected stop for gas.

It’s funny how things happen, but that’s a synopsis of how we got our start in 1929. Aspiring cheese makers Alfred Nef and Alfred Gonzenbach were looking for a new home for their small Wisconsin cheese plant. While Alfred Gonzenbach was on his way to Montana to inspect a new promising site, he stopped in Milbank, South Dakota, for gas.

When area businessmen discovered their intentions, they quickly rallied to persuade the duo to change their plans. Montana’s loss soon became Milbank’s gain and Valley Queen Cheese was born.


Today, we proudly employ over 280 people in our small community. And we’ve become a key partner for national food processors looking for quality cheese and whey products to bring their own products to life.

What We Do at Valley Queen Cheese

Chances are, you have a Valley Queen product in your home right now. A nationally branded block of cheese. A store brand bag of shredded cheese. Our whey is used to make many things, from candy bars to baby formula. They’re all made from our award-winning cheese, lactose and whey products.

Meet our family of fine products:

Cheddar Jalapeno
Monterey Jack Peppers
Monterey Jack Chipotle
Reduced Fat Monterey Jack Peppers
Cheddar Chipotle
Monterey Jack
Reduced Fat Colby Jack
Reduced Fat Colby
Reduced Fat Cheddar
Colby Jack
Colby with Cream Cheese
Fat Free Cheddar
Fat Free Mozzarella
Low Moisture Part Skim Mozzarella

3.5 million pounds of liquid whey is processed here every day, which is dried into lactose or whey protein concentrate. Our whey products are used as ingredients for baby formula, candy and nutritional supplements.

Our Anhydrous Milk Fat (AMF) products supply a rich dairy flavor and creaminess to a wide range of applications including chocolate, confectionery, and processed cheese.

Our milk comes from roughly 42 dairies within 80 miles of Milbank. Every day they bring in 4.2 million pounds of milk that we turn into 400,000 pounds of cheese. We also ship more than two tankers of liquid cream daily to cream cheese and ice cream plants across the country.

Cheese Making Process

Milk Procurement012IMG_4811amto
You need quality milk to make quality cheese, so we start with the very best milk producers in the region who supply more than four million pounds of milk each day.

In its natural state, milk is 87 percent water. To make cheese, we first remove some of the water by ultra filtration to give it a higher solid content.

In our control room, we monitor many processes such as flow rates, milk standardization and equipment cleaning.

Cheese Vats
Once milk is pasteurized and concentrated and it’s ready for cheese making, we pump it into a cheese vat where we add starter bacteria, add coloring and cook it. This is where the milk is turned into curds.

Drain Tables
Curds and whey are then transferred onto drain tables where the whey is separated from the curd. An agitator stirs the curd to facilitate whey drainage and keep curd size uniform. Salt is also added during this phase to help control the starter bacteria.


Valley Queen Cheese Factory, Inc., brought home two medals, including a Best of Class award, from the 2019 United States Championship Cheese Contest® in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The United States Championship Cheese Contest is the nation’s premier technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition. 2019 marks the 20th biennial edition, hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. This year’s contest had 2,555 entries in 116 classes from 35 states – a record number of entries in the contest’s 20-year history.

Valley Queen’s signature cheese, reduced fat cheddar, which is sold to major cut-and-wrap cheese customers who have distribution throughout the United States, was named Best of Class in the Reduced Fat Hard Cheeses category. The cheese received the top score of 99.15 out of 100.

Valley Queen also took home a third-place award for its Monterey Jack jalapeno cheese with a gentle mesquite smoke flavor in the Open Class: Pepper Flavored Monterey Jack (Mild Heat) category.

Want to know what’s new? You’re in the right place. Stop by often to see Valley Queen Cheese in the news and to read our current newsletter.

Our People

Meet our Executive Leadership Team:

Doug Wilke – CEO- Doug joined the Valley Queen team in January 2017.  He has over 27 years of dairy manufacturing experience.  He’s worked in various production manager and vice president positions.  Doug is currently leading the development of high quality strategies and business plans which meet Valley Queens short-term and long-term objectives.  Doug is also responsible for overseeing all operations and business objectives to ensure desired results which are consistent with Valley Queen’s vision and mission.


Brian Sandvig – VP of Operations and Human Resources – Brian has over 20 years of agri-business experience.  He joined Valley Queen in 2007 after more than a decade of serving as a banker to farmers, dairies, and various agri-businesses across the upper Midwest.  He serves on the following community boards:  South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Grant County Economic Development Corporation, South Dakota Junior Achievement Board, and Lake Area Technical Institute Strategic Advisory Council.


Lance Johnson – VP of Engineering and Process Technology – Lance received his degree from South Dakota State University in Dairy Manufacturing and has been actively involved in the dairy industry for 32 years.  His past experience includes USDA, chemical industry, quality assurance manager and production manager roles.  He has served in a number of capacities while at Valley Queen for the past 22 years, most recently Vice President of Manufacturing.  Lance also has served on community and dairy industry boards.


Jason Mischel – VP of Sales and Procurement – Jason has been involved with various sales functions at Valley Queen since 2007.  After initially supporting our customers in a dairy ingredients sales role, Jason has more recently headed up Valley Queen’s cheese sales efforts.  Jason serves on the boards of directors for the US Dairy Export Council, the Central Plains Dairy Association and the Gustavus Adolphus College Alumni Association.


Will Areklett – Vice President-Finance and Business Analysis. Joined Valley Queen in 2019. Most recently, Areklett was Vice President-Financial Planning & Analysis for Eagle Foods, Richfield, Ohio. Will graduated with distinction from Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in quantitative economics. He received his Master of Management (MBA) from Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management, Evanston, Ill.


Board of Directors:

  • Max Gonzenbach
  • Mitch Davis
  • Ray Trankle
  • Annelies Seffrood
  • Ken Karels
  • Rebecca Nef-Heffernan
  • Steve Kirby