NEWVILLE, Pa. — Gunnar Birgisson came to the United States a few years ago, backed by investors who saw an opportunity to make Icelandic-style yogurt called skyr from organic Pennsylvania milk. He never anticipated the legal adventure his journey was about to take.
“If you get into business in the U.S., the first person you want to hire is a good lawyer,” said Birgisson, 54. “And probably more than one.”
Birgisson, a former soft-drink executive in Iceland, was aggressively courted by Pennsylvania officials who believed that production of thick Icelandic skyr could become as popular as Greek yogurt and revive the state’s dairy industry. “These kind of projects throw a lifeline to local dairies and we wanted to do everything possible to make that happen,” said David Briel, the state’s executive director of international investment.
The Icelander formed a partnership in 2018 with the Trickling Springs Creamery, a Chambersburg business whose close connections to Mennonite farmers impressed Birgisson. Trickling Springs had a vacant plant near Newville in Cumberland County with access to milk from grass-fed cows. Birgisson thought it was the perfect site for the $1.1 million ultrafiltration system he bought from a U.S. manufacturer, which can strain conventional yogurt to make skyr.
But in early 2019, Birgisson discovered that the leaders of Trickling Springs Creamery were under…