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A SMOKIN' BUSINESS: Ridgway man finds success in cheese, meat products

RIDGWAY — About a year ago, a Ridgway man combined one of his passions into a smokin’ local business.

Through his backyard smokehouse, Mike Keller runs “The Smoke Shack” — a smoked cheese and meats business based in Elk County.

Keller attends festivals, fairs and events throughout the state, aiming to spread the word and taste of naturally-smoked cheese.

It started with Keller and his friend wanting to smoke their own deer sausage during hunting season and building the smokehouse right in his own backyard to do that. He started to smoke cheese, too, and received positive feedback about the result.

He wanted to pay for a $550 deer mount, and decided to challenge himself to raise the money by selling smoked cheese. He ended up surpassing that goal, raising more money than anticipated.

After that, the idea for a full-fledged smoked cheese business sat in the back of his mind for months.

In August of last year, Keller finally printed his Smoke Shack business cards and started going to fall festivals and craft shows, where he soon heard from people that his cheese was “the best they’ve ever had.”

He attended an outdoor show in Pittsburgh, where he sold 300 pounds of cheese in three days. He also started offering meat and cheese trays around the holidays.

Keller has worked to spread the word about his business, including carrying a backpack or cooler of cheese around and offering samples to people.

Keller has another job and is also a family man. Starting and juggling a new business was challenging at first, but has, he said, become an enjoyable hobby.

“When you support a local business, you support a local economy,” Keller said of consumers.

Keller thinks his all-natural smoking process helps make his product unique. He burns wood in a barrel and pipes the smoke in. Some other smoked cheese products aren’t really “smoked,” he says, but sprayed.

The most popular Smoke Shack cheese is smoked Cooper, Keller says. He also smokes pepperoni, and will take requests, too, like sausage.

He always tries to keep fresh cheese on hand in case he gets an order, Keller said. He has even had one person order 20 pounds of cheese from him at once.

You can tell a cheese is fully smoked by its color, which will be a tannish orange, Keller says. It shouldn’t be smoked more than three hours for food safety reasons.

Any cheese purchased from him has been smoked within the last week, he says.

Smoke Shack products are available in Laurel Mountain Winery of Falls Creek and Kreative Kreations in DuBois.

For more information, visit The Smoke Shack’s Facebook page, email shacksmoke42@gmail.com or call 724-732-4940.


News
DASD students create 'Welcome Brochure' to aid community growth

DuBOIS — DuBois Area Middle School students have created a DuBois Area School District “Welcome Brochure” to help bring  people into the community, according to Assistant Principal Michael Maholtz.

“We wanted to help bring people into the area so we figured we would create a Welcome Brochure that’s going to be displayed at local realty offices, the district office, and, more importantly, the Greater DuBois Area Chamber of Commerce,” said Maholtz. “So, a family could come in, this could be a selling point. Here is the wonderful things going on at our schools throughout the district.”

A community-led service project by students interested in communication, multi-media, marketing, the brochure was created with the cooperation of the North Central Workforce Development organization. The project exposes the students to careers in the field, Maholtz said.

“I’m really grateful that these students, these leaders took the time to put together a valuable pamphlet of information about our local educational opportunities,” said Chamber Executive Director Jodi August. “We do need good solid professionals in the area and you know if they have a great educational opportunity for their children it’s more likely they’ll move here.”

Maholtz said the number one concern for prospective homebuyers is performance of and offerings at local school districts, said Maholtz.

The brochure was created to promote and inform potential buyers what the district has to offer, said Maholtz.

Ashley Urbancic was an integral part in supervising the project and managed the printing through Jeff Tech in Reynoldsville and organized a Career Cruise.

Maholtz noted the project was also an extension of the school’s Leadership Academy.

Students visited each elementary school and the high school and key personnel in each building to ask questions for the brochure, said Maholtz.

“We wanted to be consistent with each school principal so they asked the same question,” he said.

Leadership Academy students who participated included: Aundalyn Aljoe, Joselyn Alsbaugh, Allysa Croasman, Ac Deemer, Mick Dowling, Abby Dressler, Joey Foradora, Bella Gregory, Julie Griffin, Molly Hamilton, Houston Hemke, Chase Hook, Stefanie Hoyt, Aimee Jimenez, Zach Johnson, Hannah Kennedy, Ryan Kovalyak, Lindsay Lee, McKayla Mack, Matthew Mulhollan and Hanna Toven.


Chris Wechtenhiser / Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 

St. Marys Junior League All-Star Janelle Krug, shown hitting at the state tournament, was 1-for-3 with a double — one of three hits her team had in a 4-0 loss to Delaware in their final pool play game at the East Region Tournament Monday in Connecticut.


News
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RACING TO REMEMBER: Family, cyclists honor doctor through annual bike tour

DuBOIS — A community-oriented DuBois family provides and participates in an event each year to honor a cyclist they will never forget.

Dr. Albert L. Varacallo Jr., 52, was out for his regular bicycle ride before work on July 8, 2010, when he was hit head-on by a car in the area of Maple Avenue and Shaffer Road in DuBois.

Eight years later, his family members, friends and cyclist enthusiasts will gather for the Tour de Varacallo Bicycle Race and Memory Walk, a scenic 18-mile ride that starts in the City of DuBois and passes through Sandy and Union townships.

The race will be held Sunday, starting at the DuBois Area YMCA at 9 a.m. Registration will be from 7:30-8:45 a.m. Race-day registration fee is $30. There are several male and female age categories to enter, and medallions are awarded in each age category.

Luanne Varacallo, the wife of the late Dr. Varacallo, said 61 cyclists participated last year, and the family enjoys seeing the event continue to grow.

Although this is the fourth year for the race itself, it’s the eighth Dr. Albert Varacallo Memorial Event. The Dr. Albert Varacallo Foundation — a nonprofit organization providing scholarships to students studying healthcare — was formed three years ago by the family.

Dr. Varacallo was born and raised in Sykesville, always working toward the goal of bringing quality health care to the DuBois area.

Each year, the bike tour brings in about $20,000, thanks to sponsors and donors who help keep Varacallo’s memory alive and on the road, Luanne said.

“The community has been so supportive of our efforts, and we are so blessed by everyone who donates their resources and time,” she said. “We have many volunteers who have consistently been a part of our event since the beginning, and we can’t thank them enough.”

The DuBois Area YMCA, DuBois, Sandy and Union Fire Departments, the Sandy Township Police Department and AmServ LTD DuSan Community Ambulance all contribute to make sure the race is safe.

There was no better way to honor him than a bicycle race, Luanne said, since it was one of his biggest passions. He participated in many area races, and even traveled to France to ride in the Tour de France.

“We want to keep his legacy alive because he was a wonderful husband, father, physician and friend, who was taken from us much too early. We thought having a bicycle race in his name would be a great way to honor him.”

The bike tour also is about spreading awareness and cautioning people to be safe and careful on the road, hopefully preventing future accidents.

“We want to reach out to other families who have experienced tragedies, too, and spread the message of safety on the road, no matter what mode of transportation you’re using,” she said.

The course is challenging, which bicyclists enjoy, and also offers enjoyable scenery, Luanne said.

“Many (of these people) have a passion for cycling, just like Dr. Varacallo did,” she said. “They believe in the cause and want to support this event.”

The race route includes Varacallo’s favorite ride, which leads to the City of DuBois Municipal Reservoir.

“We can bring the community together to honor the life of a man who greatly impacted those around him,” Luanne said. “Life is a gift, and Dr. Varacallo lived his to the fullest. He was a man of faith, whose life work was caring for others.”

Dr. Varacallo’s son, Albert Varacallo III, is the owner of the DuBois Dream — a minor league basketball organization that gives back to the community. Like his father, he is dedicated to helping others in any way he can.

He visited his father’s gravesite earlier this month, honoring him with a touching Facebook post:

“Eight years ago today my life was changed, but life is never about what happens to you, it’s about what you do with what happens to you that matters the most. I am grateful for my family and to everyone else who gets me through the hard times in life, and am going to continue to try and help as many people as I can throughout my life, just like my Dad.”

For more information, call Luanne or Tricia Varacallo at 814-375-7856 or visit www.docvfoundation.com.


Local
West Nile Virus detected in Clearfield County

Despite three recent positive test results in the region for West Nile Virus, there are no scheduled sprays against the mosquitos that carry the illness in Clearfield County in the near future.

On July 6, three mosquito samples tested positive for West Niles Virus — two in DuBois City and one in Chester Hill Borough.

In 2000, West Nile Virus appeared for the first time in the state in birds, a mosquito and a horse. Since that time the state has developed a network of 40 counties that includes trapping mosquitoes, collecting dead birds and monitoring horses, people, and in past years, sentinel chickens.

Clearfield County is not among the 40 counties in the commonwealth that has a West Nile Coordinator. The coordinator oversees sampling and subsequent spraying to protect against the virus.

“Typically, the season runs through September and into October,” said state Department of Environmental Protection Spokesman Neil Shader. Shader operates out of the Harrisburg office.

“We are in the height of (West Nile Virus) when we see a bigger upswing until we get deeper into the summer. “Because it has been a wet summer, we are finding more positives than normal,” Shader added.

Shader said that, even though Clearfield County doesn’t employ a West Nile Coordinator, DEP is overseeing the situation.

“There is a DEP biologist who has a regular route through counties who do not have their own county programs,” Shader explained. “They are still sampling in Clearfield County, and they typically do not spray until there is a concentration of samplings coming up positive in one area.”

To date, there have been 32 samples taken in Clearfield County — nine of those have been tests and three have been positive, all in mosquitos.

Shader urged county residents to protect themselves against West Nile by not giving mosquitos a place to breed:

Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers that have collected on your property.

Pay special attention to stagnant water in discarded tires.

Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors.

Have clogged roof gutters cleaned every year, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug up the drains. Roof gutters can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.

Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use. Stagnant water in a wading pool becomes a place for mosquitoes to breed.

Turn over wheelbarrows and don’t let water stagnate in birdbaths. Both provide breeding habitats for domestic mosquitoes.

Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens can become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate. Clean and chlorinate swimming pools not in use. A swimming pool left untended by a family on vacation for a month can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on pool covers.

It is not necessary to limit any outdoor activities, unless local officials advise otherwise. Reduce risk of being bitten by mosquitoes by making sure all windows and doors have screens, and that all screens are in good repair.

More ways to protect from West Nile Virus:

Take normal steps to prevent insect bites.

Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time, or when mosquitoes are most active.

Consider the use of mosquito repellent, according to directions, when it is necessary to be outdoors. Wash all treated skin and clothing when returning indoors.

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause encephalitis, a brain inflammation. It is commonly mistaken for the flu.

People with mild infections may experience fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Most people who are infected with the West Nile virus will not have any type of illness. It is estimated that 20 percent of the people who become infected will develop West Nile fever: mild symptoms, including fever, headache, and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands.

The symptoms of severe infection (West Nile encephalitis or meningitis) include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. It is estimated that 1 in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will develop a more severe form of disease.

Symptoms of mild disease will generally last a few days. Symptoms of severe disease may last several weeks, although neurological effects may be permanent.

There is no treatment for the virus.