Saturday, 19 May 2012

A Plea for Eldorado Cheese Factory - Save our Cheese Factories

The Eldorado Cheese Factory, with a huge FOR SALE sign.
    I began this journey, "The Great Cheese Factory Tour" as a lark.  I blogged about Ivanhoe Cheese Factory, and a friend said, if you like Ivanhoe you'll love Empire!  It started more as a funny thing, like a competition to see who had the best cheese curd.  I did not know how emotionally invested I would become.  I did not know that I would want to start petitions and a crusade to save our cheese factories.

    I live in an area abundant in cheese factories.  I childishly assumed that this was the case for everyone in Ontario.  That is until I went to  There are 19 cheese factories in Ontario, several of which are sitting on the cusp of not making it (one of which is now in bankruptcy).  19 cheese factories sounds like a lot until you think that the population of Ontario is 13, 372, 996.
  Our Cheese Factories are an endangered species on the brink of extinction.

    The first thing that I noticed when we visited the Eldorado Cheese Factory (just outside of Madoc, Ontario on highway 62) was the giant "For Sale" sign outside.  When I walked into the store it was like visiting a relatives house (a relative you like).   The lady behind the counter was cheerful and nice she made you feel extremely welcome.  The store was decorated in primitive country decorations.  There were framed black and white pictures hanging on the walls showing the factory in days gone by.  There were also awards hanging. Behind the counter were school pictures of little children, and on the wall was beautiful artwork drawn I suspect by these same children in the pictures.

     To keep afloat in these difficult times the cheese factory had to become more of a generals store.  It is on a heavily trafficked road for cottagers.  When I told the really nice lady behind the counter that I was visiting local cheese factories and blogging about them,  she got a sad look on her face.  She told me that the Eldorado Cheese Factory had not produced their own cheese in a year.  The cheese they sold was from the Empire Cheese Factory.  All of their workers had to find new places of employment.  Their cheese master cheese maker was working for Empire Cheese Factory now.  She didn't even know how long the store itself would remain open.

     The more I investigate the cheese factories, the more I see their pride in quality.  Most of the cheese factories boast being artesian style cheese.  They use only 100 percent Ontario dairy milk, which means it is free of hormones.  The use natural dyes.  They use no preservatives.  In other works they make cheese the way it was originally made hundreds of years ago.  In other words, they make a wholesome product that I would like to feed to my growing children!

    So what do "WE" do?  I will not pretend to be an expert on economy, but I do know that there is such a thing as "supply and demand".  If we buy local cheese, they will make it.  If they make it, the cheese factory will stay in business, or will not be forced to sell to big business.  All of the major supermarket chains now sell locally produced cheeses.  The last time I was in Sobey's in Acton, Ontario I saw both Maple Dale and Ivanhoe cheeses for sale... buy them!  Am I asking you to never buy Kraft Cheese again? No.  I am on a tight budget, and Kraft Cheese goes on sale for under $5.00.  Here is what I am suggesting, something that I do myself.  I use Kraft Cheese when I am making a cheese sauce, or anything that requires an abundance of cheese (cheese trays).  When I want cheese and crackers as a snack I love Maple Dale's Dill cheese.  I never buy powdered parmesan cheese, I buy Ivanhoe Cheese's brick of Parmesan Cheese, and their oh so delicious Asiago Cheese.  As a matter of fact it is more economical for me to purchase the Ivanhoe cheeses than it is to buy their counterparts (Saputo) in the big box stores.  My husband and I enjoy eating a baguette with Empire Cheese's dill cream cheese and a glass of wine.  The local cheese actually tastes better, and it makes me feel better to know that buy purchasing local I am keeping my neighbours in jobs.  Think about how many people you are employing when you purchase local cheeses.  You are paying the cashiers that sold you the cheese.  You are paying the workers who made the cheese.  You are paying the managers who run the factory.  You are paying the dairy farmers who provide the milk.  You are paying the sellers of livestock who sell the farmers their cattle.  If that does not convince you I don't know what will!
    We need to band together.  We need to save our local cheese factories.  Have a look at that map, it will break your heart!  Do yourself and your kids a favour this summer.  Hop in your car / mini van and go for a drive.  Visit a cheese factory that is within driving distance.  When your kids grow up, they'll thank you because at the rate we are going that will be their only opportunity to ever see a cheese factory.

    Now how do we save Eldorado Cheese Factory?  I don't know.  As I write this they have sold off the majority of their cheese making equipment.  Their master cheese maker has found employment elsewhere.  How do we convince someone to buy this factory and return it to it's glory?  I'm open to suggestions.  I think the first thing we can do is to support the store that is there.  Perhaps if you find yourself near on Highway 62, or you are going to your cottage near Bancroft, Ontario, stop buy and buy some cheese.  You will be supporting the Empire Cheese factory.  The Empire cheese factory is a lovely little co-op owned by local farmers.  Perhaps if the owner sees how much cheese he sells, it will set the wheels to turning and he will reconsider the loss of a cheese factory.

There are 3 days left to help me get into the number 10 position, and I need your help!  Just click the pink button and scroll down the "The Middle Aged Woman Who Lived In A Shoe", 
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  1. I had stopped and voted for you today sweetie! Sorry about the cheese factory! We buy local all we can, it's simply better..

  2. Very soon there will be no Cheese Factories if we don,t all smarten up.All anyone has to do is to buy half of the cheese you eat from a cheese factory,better for you, tastes way better.I think this afternoon we will be going to get some curd
    from the cheese factory.Nice drive good cause.

  3. Hey thanks for posting about Eldorado. I'm the Economic Development Manager for Hastings County and I've been marketing the cheese factory as being for sale for a while now. Checkout my post about it at

    Andrew Redden

    1. Sadly this is a sign of the times. Expect to see more "Eldorado" stories in the next few years as more small businesses are forced out by competition and owner retirement.
      I'm always pleased to see Sobey's selling locally made goods, that is one of the reasons I shop there. But don't forget to look for local goods at your neighbourhood deli, grocer or farmers market. Yes you may pay a few cents more BUT these are the businesses who support our communities.
      The Small-Mart Revolution written by Michael Shuman is all about the value of small business and what they contribute to our communities. It also is an eye-opener about what practices big box retailers employ to dominate their market.
      We can make a difference with every buying decision we make. It sounds like it is too late to save Eldorado but we can stop the next one from suffering the same fate.

  4. Norm, thank you for your eloquent comment. I do think that we need to band together as a society and protect all of our small business. Thank you.

  5. Ontario Cheesemaker23 May 2012 at 08:29

    I'm impressed with your cause but I'm afraid it's harder than you image. The cheesemaker from Eldorado is now at Black River Cheese in Prince Edward County. Black River IS a farmer owned co-op (I don't think Empire is) that has been around for over 110 years. At one point in the early 20th Century there were at least 30 dairies in Prince Edward now there is Black River and the other recent arrival, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese is closed and in receivership.

    Modern cheese making on a local scale is a tough business that must balance financial survival with food safety and a convoluted dairy system. I know, I've been doing it for almost 15 years here in Ontario and have seen many good, hardworking and passionate people try and fail. The main problem is food safety regulations that don't accommodate small scale cheesemaking and an increased ignorance within the inspection services of small scale cheesemaking and a reluctance to know about it. Quebec, many States in the US and Europe have far more knowledgable and cooperative food safety systems for regulating local food processing. To build even a very small dairy you're looking at about $1 million and a regulatory process that will daunt even the bravest of souls. To retrofit a dairy like Eldorado may be even more unfortunately and I suspect the reason it's still for sale. These older cheddar dairies are in the hardest part of the market-trying to compete with the big guys (Kraft, Parmalat, Saputo) making commodity cheddar but in some ways reluctant to change and adapt to unique local products out of fear of failure. Most have only their "local" fresh milk label to go on and not much more to compete. Those giants have enough resources to even play on this too and will once they know it's marketable.

    Curiously, some of the best old style cheddar makers now work for these big companies and make excellent award wining cheeses. They're a dying breed though and not being replaced due to the lack of training programs for Artisan Cheesemakers here-another problem we face.

    There are some survival stories and it's not all doom and gloom-just needs many people like you to keep plugging away at it. It won't happen quickly, it will still take years to change things. In the meantime, I'm afraid Eldorado may be lost as a dairy but with luck someone else around there will start something new. I do know of several small on-fam dairies setting up this year in and around Ontario and for now this may be where the "action" is.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciated your knowledge. It's difficult for lay persons / the average customer to know where we can begin to support our cheese makers. If you learn the names of the local dairies please let me know so that I can support them. Thank you!

    2. Empire is a farmer owned cooperative.