Canadian Swiss cheese made the Old Order Amish way

Millbank Cheese started operations in 1908 in the old foundry building in the village of Millbank in Southwestern Ontario.

Caseus Helveticus—Swiss cheese to me and you—was first mentioned in recorded history by Pliny, the first century Roman historian. Doubtless, it was more like cottage cheese than what we’re familiar with in modern times. The type of Swiss cheese we eat today first appeared in the 15th century when the technique of using rennet to firm up cheese was introduced.

In the 17th century, the Amish religion was founded in Switzerland. By the 18th century, the first Amish arrived in Ontario, bringing with them the old ways—including making cheese.

And that‘s how, three centuries later, I’m enjoying a chunk of mild and creamy Swiss made by Millbank Cheese Factory, but there is a twist in the history.

Millbank Cheese and Cold Storage in the village of Millbank in Southwestern Ontario was founded in 1908 by Old Order Amish dairy farmers. Over the years, Millbank Cheese grew and grew. By the 1980s, it employed 35 full-time employees and sold $12 million worth of cheese and butter annually. Then started a revolving door of owners: First, Schneiders, then Ault Foods, and finally Parmalat—which shut down production in 1999 but kept the retail store open.

Millbank’s pioneering past flowered again when 90 traditional farm families purchased the factory from Parmalat in 2003 and again began to make cheese the Old Order Amish way. Today, Millbank manufactures goat, sheep and cow-milk products.

And so it came to pass that when I walked into The Art of Cheese in the Beaches area of Toronto, owner Bill Miller suggested I try Millbank’s organic, unpasteurized Swiss cheese.

“This Swiss is very creamy,” Bill said. “When warmed up, it has a slight tangy bite. The real difference, though, is in the after-taste. In mass-produced Swiss, you get a metallic taste—some would say tinny—from the chemical residue that comes from the use of additives to speed up the maturing process.” As Swiss is such a light-tasting cheese, there is nowhere for the additive residue to hide.

The cream content level of the Millbank Swiss is 33% milk fat, which is high, yet that’s what makes this a rich Swiss and an excellent snack.

Bill suggested I try it in scalloped potato as the cheese helps bring out other flavours without dominating. Alas, my chunk was long gone by supper time.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca. He grew up eating Swiss, Havarti and Limburger, and a Latvian cheese called Janu siers.