A history of cheese in Canada
Canada has a rich history of cheesemaking. Here's a quick summary of the major milestones that have shaped cheesemaking in this country over the past 400 years:
1608-1610 – French settlers arrive bringing cattle and their cheesemaking traditions.
1630s – Records suggest that Acadians were supplying cheese for returning French fleets.
1660s – The Vache Canadienne breed – the only breed of cattle native to North America – is established.
Early 1700s – The inhabitants of l’Île d’Orléans are producing refined cheese.
c. 1840 – Canada’s first cheese factory opens near Ingersoll, Ontario.
1861 – Lydia Ranney produces 30,000 pounds of cheese on the family farm in Dereham Township, in Southwestern Ontario. She also teaches cheesemaking skills to local women.
1864 – Harvey Farrington erects and opens Canada’s first co-operative cheese factory in Norwich, Ontario.
1865 – Quebec’s first cheese factory is established in Dunham.
1866 – The milk from 2,500 cows is used to make the 7,300-pound Mammoth Cheese, which is sent to a fair in Saratoga, New York, and then to England to promote Canadian cheddar.
1867 – The Canadian Dairymen’s Association is formed. One of its primary goals is to foster “mutual improvement in the science of cheesemaking.”
1880s – The advent of refrigerated transport makes it easier to move milk and cheese greater distances, reducing the need for localized cheese production.
1881 – North America’s first cheesemaking school is opened by Édouard-André Barnard in Saint-Denis-de-Kamouraska.
1886 – Pasteurization (the process of heating food and beverages to a specified temperature and then immediately cooling it to eliminate harmful bacteria and extend shelf-life) is applied to milk.
1890 – The Babcock Test, used to measure the butterfat in milk, is developed. The test allows cheese factories to compensate farmers more fairly and produce consistent product.
1892 – The Saint-Hyacinthe Dairy School – a leader in cheesemaking research and innovation – opens its doors.
1892 – Marie-Alphonse Juin of Trappe d’Oka begins producing Oka cheese.
1893 – A second Mammoth Cheese is made in Perth, Ontario. The 11-ton cheese, which required 207,000 pounds of milk, was displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair before being shipped on tour to England.
1901 – The Saint-Hyacinthe Dairy School makes what is believed to be the first Camembert and Feta in Canada.
1904 – Canada exports 234 million pounds of cheese – almost all of it is cheddar that is bound for Britain.
1910 – Canadian cheesemakers begin producing Camembert and Feta.
1943 – The Saint-Benoît Monastery in Quebec introduces Bleu l’Ermite, Canada’s first blue cheese.
1952 – Britain cuts off all cheddar cheese imports. More than 100 Canadian cheddar factories close over the next two years.
1970s – Benedictine communities near Mount Laurier revitalize the use of goat’s milk in cheesemaking.
1972 – A cheddar from Quebec takes home first prize at the World Cheese Competition.
1980s – A return to the land and traditional values breathes new life into the production of fine, artisanal cheese.
1996 – A brief government ban on the importation of raw-milk cheese inspires Quebec producers to develop more of their own.
1998 – The Route gourmande des fromages fins du Québec is launched.
2002 – The Societé des Fromages du Québec is created to enhance development of Quebec’s specialty cheeses.
2004 – The Ontario Cheese Society is launched to promote artisan and farmstead cheeses in Ontario and provide networking and educational opportunities for cheesemakers.
2011 – The first annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival is held in Picton, Ontario.
Today – Quebec produces more than 70% of Canada’s specialty cheeses.
A very Canadienne cow we can call our own
The Vache Canadienne cow has a lot to boast
about. For starters, it's a descendent of some of the first cows brought to Canada around 1660. It’s also the only bovine breed ever developed in North America.
And if that’s not enough to impress, it’s also long-lived, has an easy-going temperament (like all Canadians), is an efficient milk producer, and produces milk with high butterfat and protein concentrations (making it ideal for cheesemaking.
By 1850, there were an estimated 300,000
Canadienne cows chewing their way through Canadian pastures – making it the dominant breed. But not for long. The population went into steep decline shortly thereafter due to pressure from new breeds offering higher milk volumes. Government policy emphasizing quantity over quality encouraged farmers to switch breeds. By the mid 1880’s, the breed was
Today, there are only about 1,000 Canadienne
cows left. Of that number, less than 350 have purebred status. But the breed may be on the rebound. The Quebec government has launched several initiatives to save the breed and a group of farmers in the Charlevoix region of Quebec are working hard to increase the purebred population. In addition, several Quebec
cheesemakers are once again using milk from the legendary Canadienne to produce
some exceptional cheeses.
If you want to try a cheese made with milk from
Vache Canadian cows, try Le 1608 or Hercule de Charlevoix from Laiterie Charlevoix or Pied de Vent from Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent.