I LOVE cheese. What’s not to love? You can eat it plain, spread on a bagel, melted on a sandwich, stuffed inside a pastry and these are just some of the 1000’s of ways you can enjoy cheese. Oxford County, aka the Dairy Capital, is located approximately 135 km West of Toronto or 55 km East of London, Ontario and produces enough milk to fill 1.14 Billion glasses. That is a whole lot of dairy. It should come as no surprise that the dairy capital of Canada has its very own Cheese Trail. The Oxford County Cheese Trail has 20+ stops that incorporate every aspect of dairy products from a 140-year-old cheesemaker to a brewpub that serves up a mean cheese plate. There is also a cheese museum where you can learn everything you need to know about how to make cheese they way they did in the late 19th century. When they say Oxford County is all about the cheese they mean it. Let’s get cheesy!
- in the 1800’s there were as many as 98 cheese factories in the county
- today over 70 varieties of cheese are produced in the county
- Harvey Farrington started Canada’s first cheese co-op in Oxford County
- Lydia Ranney opened Canada’s first cheesemaking school in Oxford County
- in 1866 James Harris produced a 7300 lb wheel of cheese that went on tour to the New York World Fair and Great Britain. It was called the Mammoth Cheese and launched Oxford County as the Dairy Capital of Canada
Here are some of the places I visited during my first visit to Oxford County in Ontario’s Southwest. It is just a teaser of what you can expect when you embark on your own cheesy adventure.
Mountainoak Cheese 3165 Huron Road, New Hamburg – begin your Oxford County Cheese Trail adventure at Mountain Oak Cheese where you will find award-winning Gouda made by Adam and Hannie van Bergeijk. There are plenty of unique flavours to sample and I suggest you try them all. My favourite is the Celery and the Farmstead Gold which won Best Canadian Cheese at the International Cheese Awards in England. Ask if you can see the room where they age all the cheese wheels.
Bright Cheese and Butter 816503 22, Bright – founded in 1874 by local farmers as a co-op, Bright purchased excess milk from the farmers and started a tradition of cheesemaking that still exists today. You can find Bright Cheese and Butter aged Cheddar and curds at over 127 locations throughout Ontario, but only here at the factory will you find everything they make in one place. Sample, sample, sample.
Charles Dickens Pub 505 Dundas St, Woodstock – Craving a bit of poutine? The Charles Dickens Pub in Woodstock is an authentic British Pub with a few Canadian dishes thrown in for good measure. They make a to die for Steak & Kidney Pie, from scratch I should add, and the Poutine they serve uses Gunn’s Hill curds. I have it from a reliable source fresh curds are delivered twice a week. It is all about the squeak.
Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese 445172 Gunn’s Hill Rd, Woodstock – Curious where the milk comes from to make the award-winning cheeses at Gunn’s Hill? All you have to do is look out the window to the family dairy farm, Friesvale Farms. Using milk produced by the family cows Shep Ysselstein turns them into squeaky Curds, creamy Brie and a variety of other cheeses including the 5 Brothers. This is the best place I found to watch and learn how cheese is made as you can watch them at work through a plate glass window.
Upper Thames Brewing Co. 225 Bysham Park Dr #9, Woodstock – What do a microbrewery doing on a cheese trail you may ask? Upper Thames Brewing Co. is on for two reasons. The first is along with great beer they also serve up cheese plates made with local cheeses. The second reason is that one of their beers was used by Gunn’s Hill in one of their new cheeses. If they have some available ask for it on the cheese plate while you enjoy a flight of their beers.
The Olde Bakery Café 120 Thames St S, Ingersoll – How about starting your day off with a rich and creamy Cajeta Latte from the Olde Bakery Cafe in Ingersoll? What is cajeta? It is a Mexican caramel sauce made using goats milk. Made from scratch this decadent treat is a must try for latte lovers. Personally, I could just eat the cajeta with a spoon.
Chocolatea 38 King St E, Ingersoll – A short walk from the Olde Bakery Cafe is the little store called Chocolatea, purveyors of fine teas and handmade chocolates right on the premise. Of course, all the dairy used here are from local producers so totally worth a visit.
Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum 290 Harris St, Ingersoll – Everything you wanted to know about how cheese and how it was made in Oxford County in the 1800’s can be found at the Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum. On display are the machines and tools used to make by local farmers dating back as far as the 1840’s.
There is also plenty of information to be found on the 7300 lb Mammoth Cheese wheel that James Harris had made to take to the New York World’s Fair and to Great Britain. Used as a marketing gimmick it launched Oxford County as the Dairy Capital of Canada. In the early 1900’s cheese was our 2nd largest export.
Also of note are some of the antique ceramic containers on display that once held cream cheese. Invited by TD Millar and taught to non-other than J.L. Kraft. It is safe to say American Cheese got its beginning in Canada.
Louie’s Pizza & Pasta 440 Bell St, Ingersoll – Feel like some fried cheese curds or perhaps a super creamy Mac & Cheese? Head to Louie’s Pizza & Pasta and order the Smoked Sensation Mac & Cheese. Made using Gunn’s Hill 5 Brothers smoked gouda and topped with in-house smoked pulled Pork. This is a cheese overload, but oh so worth it.
I have to be honest and admit I didn’t know much about the history of Canadian cheese before I embarked on the Oxford County Cheese Trail. I still feel I have only scratched the surface of what there is to know. My respect and admiration for the early pioneers and today’s craftsmen have increased 10 fold and now when I taste Canadian cheese I appreciate a bit more what goes into making it taste so good.