The National Cheese Institute has bestowed its highest honor, the NCI Laureate Award, on Fritz Leeman, owner of Brewster Dairy, Inc., in Brewster, Ohio. NCI Chairman Mike Reidy, who is senior vice president, corporate affairs, Leprino Foods Company, presented the award to Leeman during a special ceremony at the International Dairy Foods Association's 2015 Dairy Forum in Boca Raton, Fla.

The NCI Laureate Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the development and growth of the cheese industry. A panel of industry professionals chooses a winner each year based on the person's long-term contributions to the industry.

Family Focus on Swiss Cheese Pays Off

Fritz Leeman and his father, John, purchased Brewster Dairy in 1965 and produced a variety of cheeses for the dairy industry, some sold under their own label. Although the business flourished, the Leemans decided that concentrating solely on one product, Swiss cheese, would provide an opportunity for greater growth – and it certainly worked. Brewster Cheese is now the largest manufacturer of Swiss cheese in the United States.

As he continued his quest to improve the business and its processing techniques, Fritz Leeman was often among the first to implement new technologies and innovations that enhance products for customers. Under his leadership, for example, the company introduced a new, larger block of cheese that significantly reduced the amount of trim waste during packaging. Later, the addition of two cheese production facilities in Illinois and Idaho gave Brewster Dairy increased capacity for making the products customers wanted.

“For more than 50 years, Brewster Cheese has been a family business with a stellar reputation for quality cheeses and exceptional customer service, and for most of his life, Fritz Leeman has been the primary inspiration for that success,” said Connie Tipton, IDFA president and CEO.

Other cheese industry pioneers who have won the NCI Laureate Award include Bob Bush, Larry Jensen, Lou Gentine, Mark Johnson, Jerome Schuman, Larry Ferguson, John Jeter, Mark Davis, Wes Allen, Elmer Marth, Max Gonzenbach, Rudy Nef, Betsy Holden, Don Storhoff, Lester Kielsmeier, Hans Epprecht, Norm Olson, Dave Nusbaum, John Nelson, Harold Steinke, Raymond Goldbach, Jack Budahn and Vince Zehren.