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Italian cheese-maker opens first U.S. plant in Southern Tier

An Italian cheese producer, founded 124 years ago, is opening its first plant on U.S. soil in Chautauqua County, saving an existing workforce and a critical source of business for dozens of local dairy providers.

A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday in the Town of Ashville, where Nuova Castelli Group has acquired the former Empire Specialty Cheese facility. To help facilitate the purchase, newly-formed U.S. subsidiary Castelli America is taking advantage of a $500,000 grant from Empire State Development and a $5.5 million loan.

"That really made the difference," said State Senator Catharine Young, who was present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "On top of that, there were several issues that we had to work through. The previous owners were having financial difficulty. There are environmental issues that had to be resolved.

"We got all of the state agencies together to work on this as a team. Governor Cuomo was very helpful, also. By everyone coming together, we were able to get the job done."

The new owners will invest in new equipment for the Ashville facility.

Empire Specialty Cheese began operations three years ago, taking over a space where AFA Foods previously hosted a meat processing plant. The latter operation closed in 2012.

The Empire Specialty Cheese facility employs 80 people, but Young says Castelli plans to grow the local workforce by as many as 200 more people over time.

The acquisition also preserves business relationships with dozens of local dairy providers.

"We have 92 farmers, mostly Amish, who depend on getting their milk to that particular plant," said Senator Young, whose district includes all of Chautauqua County. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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