Thornloe Cheese Factory Ltd
Thornloe Cheese Factory Ltd. (Thornloe Cheese) has produced a respected brand of cheese products in northern Ontario for over 71 years. The company, which is 100 percent Canadian and farmer-owned, attributes its success to old-fashioned cheese making techniques and fresh milk produced the unique agricultural area surrounding the factory.
What began as a three person production, founded by René Laframboise in 1940 in the northern Ontario village of Thronloe, has developed into a 20 person-run factory and major tourist attraction with annual revenue of $6.5 million. The company operates one central retail store in Thornloe and services a wide range of wholesale customers, from retail outlets, such as Sobeys, Loblaws and Walmart, to food service establishments. The company’s products can be found throughout Ontario, northern Quebec and select stores in the United States.
Thornloe Cheese has a proud tradition of producing outstanding cheddar and curds, which are available in a variety of flavours, seasonings and ages. The company’s cheese-makers have expanded this tradition by creating a line of award-winning new specialty cheeses, providing customers with a selection of exceptional, locally-sourced dairy products, including Crème Fraiche, goat cheese and ice cream.
For the love of cheese
Since its founding, the company has switched hands several times, with each owner becoming more successful than the previous. This stroke of good luck ended in 2006, when Thronloe Cheese’s then-owner, Parmalat, announced it was planning to close the plant. After hearing the news, dairy farmers in the area looked for ways to save the Thornloe Cheese plant.
Gencor, a farmer-directed artificial insemination cooperative located in southwestern Ontario, was approached to look at the possibility of purchasing the plant. In January 2007, Gencor formally announced the acquisition of Thornloe Cheese, saving the plant from closure.
In 2011, Gencor merged with Eastern Breeders Inc. of Kemptville, forming EastGen, a farmer-owned company, which is now the proud owner of Thornloe Cheese.
Since the acquisition, the company made a development move into new cheeses, including Asiago, Romano, Brie, bleu cheese – the company’s best-seller – and new cheese blend North Haven, which has been well-received by many taste buds.
“Rather than fighting the growing cheddar market, we decided we needed to try something new and artisan cheese is a major market right now,” explains Yves Gauthier, executive manager. “By expanding our palate and taking on the adventure of crafting artisanal cheese, we were able to increase sales by about 70 percent.”
CETA is a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, which was signed by Canadian and EU leaders in Ottawa Sept. 26, 2014. The agreement must still be approved by the European Council and the European Parliament. If approved, the agreement will begin to come into effect in 2016, at which time about 98 percent of the tariffs between the two parties will be eliminated.
Sourcing from local farms
At Thornloe Cheese factory, where milk comes from, matters. “All of our milk is sourced from local farmers in the unique agricultural area of Temiskaming in Northern Ontario,” says Yves. “An advantage in the North is that milk comes from grass fed cows and goats, so it has a different flavor. It is sweeter than the milk from the South and is the only base we use to craft our cheese.”
Each year, over 4 million litres of milk runs through this popular tourist attraction – a gastronomical increase from the 107 litres used in 1940. Because the company demands a high volume of milk and sources from only local farms, when the weather is poor it can greatly affect its cheese production. “Like farming, our business is hugely dependent on the weather,” explains Yves. “If there is a drought, then not much feed can be grown for the dairy cattle. Storms also affect milk production because cows get stressed when there are high winds and loud thunder claps. Less milk means less cheese.”
To stay current and on trend, the company has developed new cheeses for the Canadian ethnic market and Canada’s emerging functional food market. These efforts have increased production in the plant, as well as the products available to consumers across Canada.
Due to its introduction of new cheeses, the company now sits among the elite quality cheese makers in the country – winning several prizes in competitions across the country, including The Royal Winter Fair Dairy Products Competition, The British Empire Cheese Competition and two nominations for the 2009 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.
The big cheese
The upcoming years look bright for Thornloe Cheese as the artisanal cheese market continues to grow and the taste for traditional cheddar and curds remains steady. Thornloe Cheese will continue supply the best products in can within these markets. “Our factory has been successful over the last 71 years, because we use the freshest milk and consistently produce good quality cheese,” explains Yves. “We’ll keep with our traditional products, but we’re also committed to staying abreast of industry trends, which means crafting new cheeses to fit the changing palates of our customers.”
Over the years, the company has seen new ownership, been rebuilt, experienced renovations, entered unfamiliar markets and danced with threat of closing down. Nonetheless, through it all, the goal of producing quality cheese and dairy products has remained steady for Thornloe Cheese Factory Ltd. – making it a popular attraction for travelers hungry for cheese, cheese curds and ice cream.