Thornloe: The renaissance of cheese
Inside the Thornloe Cheese Factory, employees prepare to cut and package giant blocks of freshly made gouda cheese for sale in the plant’s storefront.
Many visitors travelling through the abundant farm lands of the Temiskaming valley in Northeastern Ontario are delighted to discover that this fertile region also produces some of the finest tasting cheeses in the country. It’s due to an historic cheese factory whose name is synonymous with Thornloe, the picturesque village where it has operated for more than 70 years. But the story of the Thornloe Cheese Factory might not have beenwritten had there not been a passionate community response and support from senior levels of government to save the plant from closure only a few years ago.
Founded in 1940 as a family owned operation, Thornloe Cheese catered to its local clientele, providing good local jobs as well as a roadside stop for countless travelers. Eventually, the cheese plant was sold to private interests and in 2006, then owner Parmalat announced that the plant no longer fit its business strategy. That’s when local dairy producers gathered and discussed options for the preservation and expansion of the facility. With the assistance of FedNor and the South Temiskaming Community Futures Development Corporation, a business plan was developed and Gencor, a not-for- profit farmer-owned cooperative in southern Ontario, was approached to look at the possibility of purchasing the plant. In 2007, Gencor formally announced the acquisition of Thornloe Cheese and launched an all-new logo and marketing campaign.
Local dairy farmer Yves Gauthier was part of the group that kept the plant from closing. Nowadays, he manages Thornloe’s operations and new development. “Northerners stepped up to the plate to save the cheese factory and Gencor has made a lot of improvements since purchasing it,” he says. “Thornloe has come a long way” he adds, “and today, we are making some of the best cheeses in the country.”
Every summer, thousands of visitors stop in at the landmark Thornloe Cheese Factory on Highway 11 in the Temiskaming valley including FedNor Minister Tony Clement, flanked by Sault Ste. Marie MP Bryan Hayes (left) and North Bay-Temiskaming MP Jay Aspin (right).
Originally, Thornloe was a cheddar cheese production facility only. However, in recent years, it has expanded and modernized its production lines to accommodate exotic and award-winning varieties of cheeses such as Asiago, Stilton-style Blue Cheese, Queso Fajita and Romano, as well as popular flavours of cheese curds. Since 2007, FedNor has invested nearly $650,000 to expand the plant’s capacity along with the addition of new equipment to help Thornloe create new product lines, lower production costs and access new markets. “It was so important to get the new equipment that we needed” says Yves Gauthier. “FedNor’s support has helped us to become a value-added production facility able to increase the inventory necessary to reach new markets across the province.” Along with the exposure Thornloe Cheese Factory receives as an exhibitor inside the FedNor-supported Northern Ontario Agri-food Pavilion at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, the company’s products can now be purchased in several major grocery stores throughout southern Ontario and Quebec including Loblaws, Metro, Sobey’s and Longo’s.
The local economy was also a big winner with this community enterprise. Every year, local dairy producers ship over three million litres of milk to the Thornloe plant which employs more than 20 full and part time workers. And to honour the continued support of loyal customers and the surrounding communities, many of their newly developed cheeses bear the name of townships in the area such as Charlton, Temiskaming and Evanturel. So, if your travels ever take you along Highway 11 through the Temiskaming farm belt to the tiny village of Thornloe, say “cheese!”