This past June, I was invited to participate in Local Food Week by joining the great folks from Farm & Food Care Ontario on a day-long local road trip visiting, and learning about, local food producers in the Ottawa region.
Who are Farm & Food Care Ontario?
Farm & Food Care Ontario is an organization that proudly represents Ontario’s farm families. Farm & Food Care Ontario “cultivates awareness and builds appreciation for farming and food in Ontario.” They represent farmers and associated businesses and “provide a unified voice and coordinated effort on behalf of the whole agri-food sector.” Farm & Food Care Ontario “works to find new and innovative ways to introduce farmers to their customers and provide facts on farming to Canadians.”
Our first stop on the Local Food Week Farm Tour was at the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative located south-east of Ottawa in the town of St. Albert, Ontario. Those from the Ottawa region will most certainly remember news of the devastating fire that demolished the original St-Albert Cheese Co-operative back in 2013. Determined to bring back one of Canada’s oldest cooperatives (dating back to 1894), and the only one to have survived in Eastern Ontario, the owners of the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative rebuilt their business from the ground up, constructing a new facility, with increased production capacity, in a beautiful, modern building.
Over 10 million dollars was put back into the new facility, only two-thirds of it covered by insurance. The original St-Albert Cheese Co-operative was constructed of wood. Now, according to our tour guide that day, the new state-of-the-art cheese co-operative has “fire sprinklers for their fire sprinklers”.
Our tour took us behind the scenes to see how award-winning cheese is made. That’s right, St-Albert Cheese Co-operative won the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix in 2015 for their Extra Old Cheddar 5 Years. We were given some of this award-winning cheese, and as a cheddar-loving Canadian, I can certainly understand why they won this award. It tastes magnificent!
It was interesting to watch the employees of St-Albert Cheese Co-operative hard at work operating the vats and various pieces of equipment. Everything looked so shiny and clean.
Our tour through the cheese co-operative that day was extremely interesting, informative…and tasty! We ended our tour by taking some time to visit the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative’s boutique. Talk about a fascinating place to explore – especially if you are any sort of foodie. There was shelf upon shelf full of products/brands I had never seen before. This boutique was all kinds of yummy!
I could easily have spent a good hour browsing in the boutique. So many delicious products to explore! Not only is the boutique nicely stocked, everything is displayed beautifully! The great displays of teas, coffees and spices caught my eye!
Then, of course, there was the cheese. Section upon section of glorious St-Albert cheese! I’m used to seeing St-Albert cheese in my local Ottawa Metro stores, however, I had never seen so much St-Albert cheese in one place! They had every variety of St-Albert cheese you could ever want on hand at the boutique. My fave? Well, besides that award-winning St-Albert Extra Old Cheddar 5 Years, I’d have to say their cheese curds. So squeaky fresh and delicious!!
Speaking of cheese curds, the poutine lover in me noticed that the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative restaurant had some mouth-watering poutine on their menu – not to mention all the other cheesy culinary delights they offer.
Clearly, between the boutique, the restaurant, the ice cream shop, and the visitor centre and museum (opening in 2016), the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative is a great place to take the family if you are in the Ottawa/Eastern Ontario region. Just a short drive from Ottawa, a visit to the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative is perfect for an afternoon road trip. I’ve already set my sights on heading back there this summer to indulge in some of their poutine and ice cream. I have a feeling both are outstanding.
Looking for something to do with the family in mid-August? Why not take the short drive to St. Albert to check out the 22nd Annual Curd Festival, held on the grounds of the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative. Imagine! A festival celebrating cheese curds! That’s my kind of festival!
Stay tuned for more about our day celebrating Local Food Week coming up on the blog!
What is one of your favourite foods that you can buy in your local area?