Black River Cheese: Making real cheddar for 110 years

Black River Cheese Company is one of the oldest cheesemaking operations in Eastern Ontario. In fact, it will celebrate it’s 110th birthday on June 4-5 while The Great Canadian Cheese Festival takes place nearby.

Black River Cheese is one of four stops on the Cheese Tour taking place on June 3, the day before the Festival.

When it was started in 1901 by a group of local farmers, it was one of 60 cheesemakers operating in Prince Edward County. Now, it is one of only two, joined by newcomer Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in 2008.

The fact that Black River Cheese has been around for so long means they are clearly doing something right, yet the other 59 cheesemakers who have since vanished prove that this isn’t always an easy business. In 2001, shortly after celebrating their 100th anniversary, an electrical fire devastated the historic facility. In the spirit of Black River Cheese Company’s resilient founders, the 6,000-square-foot creamery was rebuilt, and opened again for business just one year later.

Situated on the banks of Black Creek near the village of Milford, a stop at Black River Cheese is a popular destination for visitors to the area. The location is stunning, the river teeming with birds and wildlife, but it’s really the cheese that makes the crowds come calling. And the ice cream!

Black River Cheese is still a small co-operative, controlled by local farmers and dedicated to preserving a tradition of making superior cheese. They pride themselves on old-world craftsmanship, producing 100% natural cheeses with no artificial ingredients. Rennet-free and naturally aged, Black River Cheese only uses locally produced milk, opts for vegetable dyes, and never uses modified milk ingredients (MMI).

Black River’s cheesemaker is Brad Reid, a second-generation cheesemaker. County-born, he’s been at the company for six years, and in 2010 landed Black River a 3rd place prize at the British Empire Cheese Show with its Mild Cheddar. Reid is currently developing a few new recipes, so keep a lookout for some new cheeses that he’s keeping secret for now.

In the meantime, Black River has an excellent selection of cheeses to choose from:

  • Maple Cheddar – produced with real Maple syrup and sugar from local Fosterholm farm
  • Fresh – newly pressed and squeaky
  • Marble – a blend of pasteurized cheddar and mozzarella
  • Mozzarella – a washed style of American mozzarella
  • Skim Mozzarella
  • Mozzarrella specialties – Dill, Garlic, Horseradish, Hot Pepper, Jalapeno, Monterey Jack, Onion & Parsley, Salsa, Pepper Jack (Monterey Jack with chili peppers)
  • Cheddar – available in coloured or white, made in traditional ways, it gets sharper as it ages
  • Mild and medium cheddars — finalists in the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix
  • Old Cheddar – aged 1 to 6 years
  • Curd – coloured, white or garlic, and makes a popular snack for visitors.

Lucky for me, Black River Cheese is just a short drive from my home, so I stopped in and tried a few samples. The Maple Cheddar has a golden hue and is crumbly, rich and sweet. It’s no surprise that this unique variety is one of their top-sellers, especially in an area so renowned for maple syrup production. The Six-Year-Old Cheddar I tried was ivory in colour, and was hard and crumbly. It had an intense bite and a slight crunch to it. One of the other best-selling cheeses is the Marble Cheddar. With its typical mottled colouring, it was firm and chewy with a mild tanginess.

BLACK RIVER CHEESE COMPANY

913 County Road 13, R.R. # 2, Milford, Ontario K0K 2P0   Telephone 613-476-2575, 1-888-252-5787

Black River Cheese is for sale at its scenically located factory outlet, as well as at health food stores and specialty sections of supermarkets.

Black River Cheese will be a Featured Cheesemaker at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival taking place June 4-5 at Crystal Palace in Picton, in the heart of Prince Edward County, Ontario’s booming new wine region and fastest-growing culinary destination.

—Krista Dalby

A writer living in Prince Edward County, Krista Dalby runs Small Pond Arts with her husband. Read their blog at smallpondarts.blogspot.com.

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