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Italian company purchases former Castelli plant

OBSERVER File photo An Italian-based investment group has purchased the former Castelli America plant in the town of Harmony. The newly formed company said it plans to resume making cheese, though no date has been set.

BLOCKVILLE — Cheesemaking may be returning to a town of Harmony processing plant closed for a year and a half.

An Italian-based investment group has purchased the former Castelli America facility following its closure in December 2019. The newly formed company, Vittoria Dairy Inc., said in U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents it plans to eventually process cheese at the 5152 Fairbanks Road plant after its $1.4 million bid for the facility and its equipment was approved in a court-supervised auction in September.

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding was managed by a trustee, Jay Lubetkin, out of New Jersey. The sale of the property and its equipment to Vittoria Dairy was finalized in February.

Upon closing the purchase, the trustee was authorized to satisfy a number of claims, including $99,445 in taxes to the town of Harmony and $55,000 in sewer charges to the South and Center Chautauqua Lake Sewer District.

It’s not known when the plant may be up and running again or how many employees might be hired. Richard Dixon, chief financial officer of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, said COVID-19 has “thrown a wrench” when it comes to traveling and thus might delay when officials arrive.

“They’re looking to get over here,” Dixon said. “We have great milk here, and that milk makes great cheese. They have plans to use our local milk.”

Castelli’s parent company, the Italy-based Nuovo Castelli Group, purchased the former Empire Specialty Cheese manufacturing plant in the summer of 2016. Despite opening to much fanfare and backing in the form of low-interest loans and grants from a variety of local, state and federal agencies, Castelli reportedly experienced challenges related to production and sales.

On Dec. 9, 2019, the county IDA, which assisted Castelli America in opening three years earlier, confirmed that plant had closed and that 67 jobs had been lost.

Don Butler, the facility’s former general manager, told The Post-Journal at the time of its closing that the plant had recently lost a couple of key customers and said the parent company “was not in a position to fund us.”

Butler said he was saddened to see the plant shutter just weeks before the Christmas holiday. “Certainly, we were disappointed,” he said. “Any local company that closes is bad for the economy and workforce.”

Mark Geise, deputy county executive for economic development and CEO of the IDA, noted that Castelli America had “benefited from more than $8 million in upgrades to its equipment, building structure and waste treatment facilities.”

He added: “This is a state-of-the-art facility with a ready source of milk producers, and the CCIDA is hopeful that the facility will be attractive to potential new operators.”

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