Unique Delicacy Heralded Far, Wide
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
MILFORD – On the Town of Milford website lies one line of historical mystery: “Home of the Once Famous Pine Apple Cheese.”
Not pineapple-flavored cheese. Not cottage cheese with pineapple.
Pine Apple Cheese.
“Pine Apple Cheese was an aged, mild cheddar that was wrapped in a crocheted bag and sprayed with an orange shellac,” said Jim Havener, a Milford historian. “But when you unwrapped it, it looked just like a pineapple.”
In addition to running the Green Toad Bookstore in Oneonta, Havener travels the state collecting images for The Farmers’ Museum’s Ploughline photo collection.
“In over 20,000 images, this is the only really distinctive cheese factory I’ve come across,” he said.
In 1903, businessman Oscar Weatherly and his son-in-law, Stuart Haight, purchased the building between the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad and what is now the Cooperstown Brewing Company, and dubbed it the Haight Cheese Company.
“It was already a butter factory owned by David Wilber,” Havener said. “So not only was he very involved in establishing banking and funding for these projects, he was also instrumental in building the railroad that they used.”
It was a community effort. In addition to employing the men of Milford in the factory, Weatherly and Haight used the railroad next door to bring in milk from the local dairy farmers.
And they hired women to crochet the bags that gave the cheese its distinctive pineapple-patterned look before the railroad was then used to ship the cheeses to market.
“It was really a community-based business,” said Havener. “It was the heyday of dairy, so farmers would bring their milk to be processed, and I imagine a woman could knit a couple dozen bags a day,”
And she would have to. At its peak, the plant produced 500 cheeses a day, in sizes ranging from “Little Gem” to the 18-ounce “Large Gem” to “Family Sized,” but all of them were labelled “fancy.”
Two of those bags – wrapped around prop cheeses – are on display at the Upper Susquehanna Cultural Center, home of the Milford Historical Society, along with interior and exterior photos of the plant.
Word of the “Princess of Cheeses,” as it was called, spread. One 1907 photo shows a room of more than 100 hanging cheeses ready for shipping. “This is only a few of the cheese,” the caption says, “but you get the idea of it.”
“Milford soldiers stationed overseas in World War I reported that they would open their rations and find a Pine Apple Cheese,” said Havener. “How it got to the trenches of France is a really interesting aspect to the story.”
In addition to the Pine Apple Cheese, Haight also made cream cheese, Neufchatel and American cheese, as well as selling “grated cheese in bottles,” according to one advertisement.
A fire burned the factory in 1922, but it was soon rebuilt, and remained in operation until 1950. “It was a family-run business,” said Havener. “The Weatherlys were becoming elderly, and they couldn’t find anyone to run the business.”
The building was demolished sometime later. “It wasn’t here when I arrived in 1980,” said Havener.
But as he crosses the state looking for photographs of rural life, he still finds new photos of Milford’s cheese-making heyday.
“I’ve found a couple pictures of the Haight Pine Apple Cheese company,” he said. “There were hundreds of cheese factories across New York, but none like the Pine Apple Cheese.”