MILBANK, S.D. - Valley Queen Cheese Factory Inc. recently opened the Valley Queen Heritage Center, an interpretive center in downtown Milbank, chronicling its nearly 90 years in cheese making.

The space was available, and the company moved a cheese retail store into an available vintage space downtown.

Joan Behr, the company's communications director, said the project had been in the works for about two years and opened officially on Aug. 17 with a small party and celebration with the Nef and Gonzenbach families, who started Valley Queen in 1929. The museum and learning center's debut was with officials of dairies who supply the plant, and then the public in the third week of August.

The center plays a short introductory movie and a sophisticated, interactive display, focusing on the dairy industry in South Dakota and the cheese industry in particular. Visitors can get through the free exhibit in a half-hour, but there is enough information to make a longer visit worthwhile. The design moves deftly from the vintage images of the company's beginnings to the newest technologies.

Behr said one hope is that it could help people deciding on a career to consider the dairy and cheese industry.

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"I think what opens people's eyes to the dairy industry is really the focus on modern technology - both at a farm and a manufacturing/dairy processing level - are done with highly-specialized equipment and it takes trained, educated personnel to operate it," Behr said.