Oxford County Cheese Trail is one of our favourite culinary weekend getaways in Ontario.
Visitors can easily enjoy the Oxford County Cheese Trail on a romantic weekend getaway. Visit cheese factories, organic farms, award-winning restaurants, craft brewery, historic museum, artisan gift shops, spa and luxury boutique hotels.
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Oxford County Cheese Trail Facts
Foodies in Ontario keen to eat their way through the provinces most famous fromage can easily plan a self guided tour along the Oxford County Cheese Trail. You can plan the trip from home using this handy online brochure.
Meredith Maywood, from Tourism Oxford shared, “Oxford County Cheese Trail launched in its current format in the Fall of 2015. Prior there was a simple brochure listing cheese makers, restaurants, museums and a few attractions. While many of the stops were tied to cheese, they did not offer specific cheese trail activities for visitors.”
Due to the recent resurgence of cheese making, Tourism Oxford had the idea to create the trail as a way to celebrate the local cheese and dairy industry.
How Does the Oxford County Cheese Trail Work?
Maywood explained, “Oxford County Cheese Trail is highly customizable with people choosing the stops and activities they want to enjoy. If you are all about the cheese visit cheese shops and restaurants. If you love culture check out the museums, artisans and historic Inns. There are over 25 partners on the trail so it’s best to dedicate a weekend to enjoy all the region has to offer fromage fans.”
The trail appeals to culinary aficionados but also groups of friends or families looking for a fun day out. If you choose to visit cheese makers take in the sites, and make a picnic out of the goodies you purchase, or you can book a one of a kind experience with a gourmet overnight getaway. It is totally up to you.
When To Visit the Oxford County Cheese Trail
If it’s your first time visiting Oxford County we suggest planning your visit during Big Cheese Days, which is held every other year in May.
Maywood shared, “During Big Cheese Days stops along the cheese trail offer mammoth meals, deals and experiences. This includes special tastings at cheese trail stops, unique menus, and events at cultural stops. The event is every Saturday in May providing ample opportunity for people to come and explore. “
The beauty of the Oxford County Cheese Trail is it can be explored year round with different experiences based on the season. Enjoy pancake breakfasts at Jakeman’s Maple farm in March. In the summer Habitual Chocolate makes a new ice cream flavour each week. In the warmer months you’ll also find museum festivals. Thames River melons celebrates the harvest in the fall, and the Elmhurst Inn makes a cozy winter getaway.
The landscape also changes, which is a big part of the trail, spring trilliums, to golden bales of hay in August, fall colours in October, and beautiful winter sunsets. The scenic drive alone makes it an unforgettable journey!
Oxford County Cheese Trail Hotels
While you can visit on a day trip from Toronto we suggest booking a long weekend to enjoy all the Oxford County Cheese Trail has to offer!
The region is home to one of our favourite Ontario Luxury Boutique Hotels as well as historic inns and budget options for families.
- Elm Hurst Inn & Spa: plan a romantic getaway at this scenic luxury boutique hotel near Ingersol. Elm Hurst Inn features a full-service spa, fine dining restaurant, bar & lounge and contemporary suites. Check Reviews.
- Château la Motte: this chic guest house is located near Woodstock features elegant guest rooms where vintage wallpaper is paired with awesome antiques. Includes a complimentary buffet breakfast featuring local Oxford County cheese. Check Reviews.
- Holiday Inn Express Woodstock: this corporate hotel in Woodstock is perfect for families as it offers an indoor pool featuring a slide. There’s also access to a 24 hour gym. Check Reviews.
Oxford County Cheese Trail Highlights
While the curd curious can visit over 25 businesses on the trail, here’s a list of our must-see recommendations.
445172 Gunn’s Hill Rd, 519-424-4024
We suggest organizing your Oxford County Cheese Trail itinerary so that you’re visiting the local fromage producers first. That way when you’re visiting nearby gift shops, restaurants and farmers markets you’ll recognize the local cheeses you’re sampling.
We suggest starting your day at Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese, which produces one of Ontario’s best Swiss-style mountain cheeses.
The owner and operator of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese is Shep Ysselstein. Shep’s journey to becoming a skilled cheese maker began on the family dairy farm where he not only loved dairy farming, but all the delicious products that come from dairy.
It was during the time when he was making cheese in Switzerland’s alps that he truly fell in love with the art and mastered his technique. Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese produces three unique, hand crafted Swiss-style cheeses. The traditionally crafted cheeses are made with milk produced at Ysselstein’s family dairy farm, Friesvale Farms. The farm was started by his grandfather who immigrated to the area in the 1950’s from Holland.
Visitors to Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese can learn and watch how cheese is made through viewing galleries and videos. Finish your tour with a cheese tasting or purchase your favourite fromage at the retail shop for a scenic picnic outside.
Gunn’s Hill also typically offers fun workshops that includes a tour of the aging room and a delicious cheese fondue class.
3165 Huron Rd, 519-662-4967
Mountainoak Cheese President Adam Van Bergeijk immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1996 with his wife Hannie and son Arjo.
After the family sold their dairy operation in the Netherlands they started milking cows in Oxford County in 1997. On July 18, 2012 they made their first batch of cheese in Canada.
Adam shared, “We started because we care a lot about the quality and integrity of cheesemaking, from cropping for the feed to caring for animals. I wanted to create cheese made from 100% Canadian milk that was delicious.”
Mountainoak typically offers tours to visitors on the Oxford County Cheese Trail. The interactive and educational experience allows visitors to peak into the aging room, watch a cheesemaking video and purchase fresh cheese at the retail shop.
Mountainoak Cheese in Oxford County offers a slew of unique flavours worth sampling; gold, black truffle, horseradish and quark.
383723 Salford Rd RR#1, 519-485-5405
Ellis Morris launched Quality Sheep Milk in 2010 after immigrating to Canada from Wales. The business was later renamed Red Dragon Dairy to honour of the mythical creature found on the Welsh flag.
Red Dragon Dairy produces artisanal sheep milk cheeses on their 128 acre sheep and dairy goat farm in Oxford County. Operated by Ellis, Hazel and Sion Morris, the family farm is the only sheep and goat cheese producer in the region.
Red Dragon Dairy uses half of the milk produced on the farm for the creation of fine cheeses and yogurts such as their Italian-style Pecorino cheese and the Cheese Trail’s only feta.
Sample through creamy Greek style yogurt, Manchego, sheep milk cheddar, fresh flavoured cream cheeses and crumbly feta produced from the milk of 350 dairy sheep.
Red Dragon Dairy is the newest edition to the Oxford County Cheese Trail, seeing as it just launched a state-of-the-art cheese factory and retail store in summer 2021.
816503 22, 519-454-8600
Bright Cheese & Butter was established in 1874 by a group of local farmers in Oxford County who realized they had a surplus of milk each month from their livestock.
By the turn of the twentieth century, cheddar had become Canada’s second largest export and there were 1,242 cheddar factories in Ontario. Bright Cheese is the oldest remaining cheddar factory in Canada. The historic Ontario food business is still located in its original location.
Bright Cheese and Butter are well known for producing naturally-aged cheese made with 100% local milk. Visit to sample a selection of aged cheddars, asiago, colby, feta, havarti, speciality flavours and curds perfect for plopping on a homemade poutine.
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225 Bysham Park Dr #9, 519-290-0053
Upper Thame Brewing Company opened in August of 2016. There were originally 5 owners, which have now been reduced to three; Carl Bloomfield, Michael Morris and Drake Merritt.
Upper Thames Brewing Company’s GM Erica Hughes shared, “The owners really loved craft beer, did lots of research travelling around to other Ontario craft breweries and finally put dreams to reality with the first (and currently only) craft brewery in Oxford County. They are proud of their roots here in Oxford and have made that a focus of the business by producing local, using local ingredients where possible, employing local staff and giving back to the community, where possible.”
If you’re enjoying the Oxford County Cheese Trail stop in for a sip at Upper Thames Brewing. Visitors step into an open concept taproom with a view overlooking the brewery. You can also ask for a tour and talk to the brewers first hand. The Canadian themed taproom offers a full menu of fresh beer, guest taps and light snacks. You’ll also find a full retail section where you can purchase brews to go and merchandise.
The local cheese trail has been an excellent way for the Oxford County Brewery to meet new customers and opportunities. Hughes explained, “Part of the fun in a small community like ours, are the local collaboration possibilities. We work with Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese by providing our Dark Side Chocolate Stout for their beer brined cheese called, Dark Side of the Moo. The Dark Side Chocolate Stout is made with Habitual Chocolate cocoa nibs. When you visit Upper Thames Brewing, we offer a cheese trail paddle featuring 4 samples served in our beer paddle boards. The Cheese Trail Paddle includes; Dark Side of the Moo cheese, Habitual Chocolate, a 4oz sample of Dark Side Chocolate Stout and pretzel & crackers.”
Visitors can also enjoy an in depth experience called Brewed Exploration. It’s a behind the scene tour highlighting local cheese collaborations and the brewing process, from grains to glass.
190 Fairway Rd, 519-290-5347
The owners of Upper Thames Brewing Company opened a second mecca for Ontario craft beer lovers in Oxford County in December, 2019.
Brickhouse Brewpub is a popular restaurant for beer lovers in Woodstock located in a historic power station. It offers diners locally inspired food paired with 25 taps that pour award winning craft beer from across the province.
Guests can check out the onsite brewing operation as well as purchase to go cans and kegs from the onsite bottle shop. The rustic brick interior and unique finishes provide a warm and inviting atmosphere. During the warmer months enjoy the popular backyard patio.
The pub inspired menu features plenty of dishes infused with fresh beer such as The Moe Dog, Beer Poached Pear Salad, Beer Cheese Dip and Waffle Nachos.
Sally Creek Golf Club is located directly beside the Brickhouse Brewpub and makes for a great spot to sip refreshing suds after playing 9 holes.
505 Dundas St, 519-421-2218
Karen Culley is the owner of Charles Dickens Pub in Woodstock. Her mother Joan originally opened the business in 1996. Today, Karen manages the popular pub with her partner Ian.
Karen shared, “Living in England, my mom always wanted to own a restaurant. When we came to Canada, I worked in the service industry first as a server and my mom followed. When she opened Charles Dickens Pub in Woodstock in 1996, I was sort of her sidekick. She ran an amazing restaurant from the front of house to the back of the house and was a really amazing cook. She was a hands on operator and really inspired the pub’s old school, British vibes with our menu items like the fish n’ chips.”
Charles Dickens Pub offers a rotating menu featuring the local cheese makers on the Oxford County Cheese Trail. “That can be anything from our grilled cheese sandwiches and baked bries to lamb burgers topped with fresh local cheese, fajita salads and more! We’re always changing the menu with an exception of a few classics,” said Karen.
389 Dundas St, 519-535-1341
Dave Cook first opened Habitual Chocolate in 2010 in London, Ontario. In 2015, Philippe Lehner took over the chocolate shops operation and moved to nearby Woodstock.
Chocolate lovers on a road trip of the Oxford County Cheese Trail should pay a visit to learn how chocolate is made. You’ll also gain insight into how locally made craft chocolate differs from mainstream chocolate bars and truffles.
Habitual Chocolate is a “bean to bar” chocolatier specializing in single source chocolate bars. Each bar has its own unique flavor profile based on the climate and terroir the beans are grown. Phillipe can accommodate special diets including dairy free, keto, and nut free options in chocolate and ice cream.
Habitual Chocolate serves a signature Hot Chocolate year round, which is prepared with local Oxford County dairy. During the summer, visitors can enjoy inventive ice cream flavours prepared with local cream. If you’re visiting in the summer months be sure to order a cup of salty Brie Cheese Ice Cream made with Gunn’s Hill Brie.
454414 Trillium Line, 519-539-1366
Jakeman’s Maple Farm is currently owned by Mary and Robert Jakeman, as well as two of their children Devin and Chad.
A small farm gift shop has been operating for as long as the Jakeman family, offering warm maple syrup as a taster for the Maple Syrup Festival held yearly, put on by the Women’s Institute.
Mary shared, “My niece initiated a small pancake house on site in the late 70’s along with the farm gift shop to give people a chance to taste the product, which turned out be a successful. Bob and I were married in June, 1981 and we continued operating the pancake house with his Brother Bruce and wife Lynda.”
The Jakeman family felt highlighting their maple syrup was a great way to promote the first crop of the year. Agritourism allowed visitors to get first hand experience visiting a maple farm, walking through the pretty trails during different seasons and buying quality maple syrup and maple goodies for personal use and special occasions and gifts.
Maple syrup is every Canadians favourite natural sweetener. Those visiting Oxford County Cheese Trail should pick up a bottle of maple syrup and add it to a warm brie with dried cranberries and nuts. Jakeman’s Maple Farm also suggests adding granulated maple sugar to a soft cheese for a simultaneous savoury and sweet flavour on crackers and apples.
Visitors to the gift shop will also find a cookbook produced by Mary Jakeman that features a recipe for maple syrup cheesecake.
Jakeman’s is one of the largest maple syrup producers in Ontario. It launched a state-of-the-art processing facility in 2020 that bottles sweet syrup for major Canadian retailers like Farm Boy and Loblaws.
440 Bell St, 519-485-4441
Louie’s Pizza & Pasta was first opened in 1994 by Cindy Skater with the help of her parents Molly and Louie.
For the last three years, the popular Oxford County restaurant has been run by new owners Costa Kourtesis and 3 partners from the Protopapa’s family.
The new owners also came from a restaurant background. Gus had run the Malibu in London for many successful years. His partner Nick and two sons ran a restaurant in Chatham previously.
Mike Gibson Chef and GM at Louie’s Pizza & Pasta shared, “We are home of the big ass panzerotti! If you eat it all, it is free. We bring in local cheeses for specials. We do a featured pizza and some specials on take out at the moment and our Deep Fried Gunn’s Hill cheese curds have become quite popular.”
If it’s your first time visiting Louie’s Pizza & Pasta Gibson recommends, “Try the cheese curds and enjoy a Backpaddle Blonde Ale, which we bathe the curds in before dusting with flour and frying. The beer is made locally in Woodstock by Upper Thames Brewery.”
Gibson regularly sees tourists popping in for a bite as they eat their way through the Oxford County Cheese Trail. “We love telling tourists some of our favourite spots or places to visit in the area. We have really enjoyed Big Cheese Days and different promotions over the years, said Gibson.
188 Thames St S, 519-425-4999
Annelies VanIttersum is the owner of Wine Cellar & Cheese Shop, a popular stop on the Oxford County Cheese Trail.
VanIttersum launched the business in November, 2016. “Shortly after learning the ropes of the ferment-on-premise wine business, I decided that adding a cheese counter to the front of the shop would be a great addition, for my business, but also the town, as there was no full service cheese shop. Quickly after, I added crackers, condiments and other gourmet items to create a sort of one stop shop for all cheese and charcuterie needs,” said VanIttersum.
She added, “I grew up on a dairy farm myself and cheese has always been a huge part of our table growing up. I always knew that if I were to start a foodie type business, cheese is a must. We are fortunate to have a rich variety of passionate cheesemakers in our area locally, which was all the more reason to launch the cheese business. Being that the existing business already included craft winemaking; cheese and wine is the perfect marriage.”
VanIttersum’s mantra is “every cheese has a story.” From the cheesemaker, to the region, to the specific animal and the variances of flavour that each particular milk offers, there is something distinctly unique to each cheese. This is a story she shares with her customers.
So what can visitors experience at the Wine Cellar while tasting their way through the Oxford County Cheese Trail?
VanIttersum explained, “We typically offer cheese tastings to our guests. On Saturdays, during Big Cheese Days, we offer a variety of samples and pairings to go with the cheeses we select. We offer a variety of over 60-70 varieties of artisan cheeses that are both local and from around the world. We also have a wide variety of gourmet crackers, local honey, olives, peppers, Canadian mustards, hot sauces, local candles, giftware, hot jellies, jams, chutneys and spreads and Chef Charlotte Langley’s Scout Canning Seafood. For our more local returning customers, we offer various quality levels of craft wine by the batch.”
VanIttersum loves how the Oxford Cheese Trail has put Wine Cellar on the map. “We are offering new food experiences such as raclette on locally made bread. We expect to partner up with more local artisans post Covid to offer further experiences.”
112 Thames St S, 519-485-6466
Steve and Kathy Boyd opened Patina’s in July, 1988. The couple began the business as a small store in Ingersoll. They very quickly realized they needed a larger, more central location so in December of that year they relocated to Thames Street.
Kathy shared, “Steve was a wood worker that was making toys for another company and we both came from families that had artistic parents. Steve’s Mom was a potter and my mother was an artist well known in the Ingersoll and Woodstock area and they were very involved with the Creative Arts Centre. We decided to open a store where we could sell wooden toys that Steve made, display some of my mother’s artwork and sell pottery and other handmade items.”
Toady, Patina’s sells handcrafted items produced by local artisans in Oxford County, across Canada and around the world. The gift shop prides itself on offering gift ideas for all ages.
Tourists visiting the Cheese Trail can expect to see interesting and unusual handmade items and enjoy a browse through the unique shop.
Kathy added, “We specialize in pottery and blown glass providing a very large selection of Canadian made, fully functional pottery pieces. This includes many cheese serving products – cheese platters, brie bakers, salad bowls, open bakers, and other serving dishes. We also sell cheese ball mixes, hot cheesy dip mixes, red pepper jelly and other cheese condiments.”
290 Harris St, 519-485-5510
The Ingersoll Cheese Factory Museum (as it was first called) opened to the public on August 27, 1977. It is owned and managed by The Town of Ingersoll, which is now the Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum.
So what exactly inspired the town to launch a cheese museum?
Curator Scott Gillies shared, “Several locals recognized the historical significance of cheese making in and around Ingersoll and brought forward the idea of creating a cheese museum. A committee was established and government funding to hire researchers and a construction crew was obtained. Timbers from a nearby barn were used to construct a replica 19th century cheese factory on Town-owned property in Centennial Park. Area cheesemakers were interviewed and several of them donated artifacts from their working factories in order to outfit the museum.”
The museum offers a step back in time. Visitors learn what it must have been like everyday as farmers delivered their cans of milk to the side of the building, how it was weighed and recorded, and then how it was transformed into 90 pound wheels of cheese. Guided tours provide further insights into the daily operations of an historic factory. There are plenty of photo opportunities inside the building too! Visitors can don an apron and pose with their own wheel of cheese, or stand next to the replica 7,300 pound mammoth cheese. Families find frolicing fun in Canada’s only Cheese Playground where kids slip through slices of Swiss and spin on a wheel of Blue. Tastings can be pre-ordered along with private tours.
While the museum does not make cheese, it does carry a variety of locally made, award winning cheeses for sale in its gift shop. Cheese may be the reason they stop for a visit, but there is a whole lot more to see and do. By the end of their tour, visitors leave having learned a whole lot more about “a town built on cheese”.
765875 Township Road 5 ,519-469-3636
Thames River Melons is one of the newest editions to the Oxford County Cheese Trail.
Alex Chesney is Thames River Melons’ Registered Dietitian and Farm Market Manager. Chesney shared, “My dad, Rob Chesney started the business in the early 1980s, by growing just one acre of cantaloupe. He continues to own and operate the farm with help from the rest of our family, as well as friends, neighbours, and community members.”
Rob grew up on a farm, and wanted to continue to pursue agriculture, but just a little bit differently. In the early 80s growing melons in Ontario was somewhat unusual, but it a fun challenge, and in the end really took off.
Thames River Melons has expanded to over 500 acres, growing a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Chesney added, “We sell our produce at farmers’ markets, through home delivery, to some local grocery stores, and on-farm. We have offered pick-your-own berries for many years, but in 2019 we opened our new and improved On-Farm Market and Pick Your Own Patch as a way to expand our farm experiences, and invite our customers to experience agriculture firsthand. We continue to offer the opportunity to pick berries (strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries), and also operate a pick-your-own vegetable patch where visitors can dig up their own potatoes, pull their own carrots, and snap off their own green beans or peas. In the fall we have a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and other seasonal activities. The farm market itself is home to pre-picked produce, our line of preserves of honey, snacks, drinks, and a selection of other local goods.”
A visit to Thames River Melons is a must for foodies exploring the Oxford County Cheese Trail as their preserves and honey pair perfectly with a local cheese board. “We love creating charcuterie boards full of our fresh fruit, pickles, jams alongside local cheeses and meats. We sell cheese from nearby Gunns Hill and salami and pepperettes from our neighbours Greener Pastures Eco Farm, and encourage customers to get creative with their harvest,” said Chesney.
The family is in the process of installing a farm kitchen, and have exciting plans to offer more culinary experiences, classes, and workshops in that space in the near future.
412569 Cranberry Line, 519-983-4383
Urban Wheel at Sundowns Farms was first by Rebecca Visscher, Pieti Visscher and Jessica Velthove in 2018.
Visscher shared, “We are crazy about local food, small batch created foods, supporting women in business, and really connecting our local community with amazing Ontario and Canadian based brands. We also have a love for handmade items, as all three of us have tried our hands at creating and selling items we make. To have this all in one building was our goal, along with an experience based visit for our customers. “
If you’re visiting the region in hopes of shopping for a few treats to take home Urban Wheel at Sundown Farms offers a great opportunity to connect with local makers.
Visscher added, “We offer locally made ice cream starting in May and in the summer months an outdoor seating area to enjoy our country location, including our friendly geese who inhabit the pond.”
Guests are able to enjoy an Urban Scoop, which is an ice cream sundae with the works, the best of local toppings and even an appearance by Handeck cheese from Gunns Hill (think salted caramel pretzel flavour). We also suggest tasting the kitchen’s signature spinach dip made with Bright Cheese, a small take home cheese platter, or one of their delicious sub sandwiches.
5183 Trussler Rd, 226-336-1909
Murray Zehr is the Executive Chef and owner of the 1909 Culinary Academy, which opened its doors in February, 2020.
Zehr was a high school teacher for almost 20 years and has over 25 years experience in the hospitality industry. He has successfully owned and operated 8 restaurants during his instructional career.
Zehr shared, “I wanted to teach students how to grow local, preserve local and cook local. A lot of that is missing in the curriculum for college and high school.”
The 1909 Culinary Academy sells local items, including products they grow themselves. “We made cheese croquettes last year for the Oxford County Cheese Trail,” said Zehr.
Last year because of Covid Zehr says he pivoted to become the busiest patio in Ontario. “I’m offering a new experience called The Love Locks of the 1909 Culinary Academy. It is similar to the locks in France but I am the only one in Canada doing it. Selfie station, take a picture then place your lock on the vertical trellis we use to grow vegetables. Instead of throwing the key in the river you simply stick it in one of our 50 raised beds where it stays forever,” shared Zehr.
Airport Rd & ON-19, 519-842-5945
Coyle’s Country Store first opened in 1899, later incorporated in 1924. The historic family run country store is a must visit on the Oxford County Cheese Trail.
Shannon Coyle, 4th generation manager of the historic Oxford County store shared, “Through our years of incorporation we were a wholesale business with a variety of manufactured products such our own dairy malt shake, Tango. In the mid 1950’s, my grandfather, Jay Coyle and his brothers grew an experimental peanut crop, which they harvested and roasted to produce the first Ontario grown peanuts. My grandfather had a great entrepreneurial spirit and saw the vision of transitioning from a wholesale food market to retail. In 1979, he built our current store combining his knowledge of wholesale and retail and his love for community and service. We have continued this tradition of providing a unique shopping experience whether looking for food supplies or giftware.”
Coyle’s Country Store is very unique in how they display food and giftware, all in a scenic country setting. The kitchen team make homemade fudge onsite using local cream and butter. They also roast over 50,000 pounds of nuts each year!
Shannon added, “We make a special Cheese Trail Mix featuring chocolate almonds and sell popular local cheeses. Our giftware is always changing, every visit is a new surprise and during the holidays our store transforms into a magical Christmas wonderland.”
445300 Gunn’s Hill Rd, 519-532-3724
Wild Comfort Body Care was launched 7 years ago by former Mental Health professional Danielle Paluska.
Oxford County Cheese Trail visitors are welcomed into the shop and introduced to their unique Goat Milk Soaps. Paluska shared, “While visiting they can explore the various scents and if they are lucky I will be making something special for them to watch and ask questions.”
Wild Comfort Body Care’s local goat milk soaps are a must try for any shopaholics, wellness or beauty care lovers.
So how has the Oxford County Cheese Trail positively impacted this local beauty company?
“Being a part of the Cheese Trail has been great for our business. People seeking out a food experience seem pleased to have a non-food option. Many of our visitors turn into regular customers. We are working with our neighbours Gunn’s Hill Cheese, Berrylicious, and Greener Pastures Eco Farm to develop a collaborative soap using whey, berries, and tallow! The idea around the soap came as we started to explore how we could draw attention to each other’s businesses without words,” said Paluska.
120 Thames St S, 519-485-5757
The Olde Bakery Cafe was originally Zurbriggs Bakery, which opened in the early 1900s. It closed in the 1980s, sat empty for a few years, then a couple purchased it in 2002 turning into a bakery and cafe in 2003.
Pete and Sue Reintjes purchased the building and business in 2007. Sue shared, “I have enjoyed baking since I was a child. Both my parents baked, my dad worked in a bakery as a teenager and continued the interest working at Westons & Mccormicks. I’ve been in management positions since I was 17. Put the two together along with a phone call from a real estate agent mentioning there was a local bakery for sale and the rest is history!”
Oxford County’s The Olde Bakery Cafe is a popular local joint famous for its breakfast, lunch, desserts, speciality coffees and teas.
If you’re in town to taste the Oxford County Cheese Trail Sue suggests ordering, “Our all day breakfast sandwich featuring Gunns Hills 5 brothers cheese, Cajeta latte featuring Mexican caramel from a local dairy and paneer bread pudding with paneer cheese also from Local Dairy Products.”
415 Harris St, 519-485-5321
The Elm Hurst Inn is the only luxury boutique hotel located on the Oxford County Cheese Trail.
The historic property is on the outskirts of town, offering guests a quiet, spacious, and relaxing retreat. Elm Hurst is also unique in that it has an on-site spa.
The chic hotel’s Mansion House Dining Room was built in 1878 and is the former home of the James Harris Family.
Elm Hurst Inn’s General Manager Alon Gurman shared, “By using premium meats, cheeses and produce sourced as locally as possible and training and retaining highly qualified chefs we are able to create the best possible guest experience. At the restaurant we source cheeses from Gunn’s Hill, Mountain Oak, Quality Sheep’s Milk, Local Dairy, Jensen’s and Bright’s.”
If it’s your first time visiting Maison House Dining Room for dinner Gurman suggests ordering the Prime Rib, “as far back as I can remember our slow roasted prime rib with natural au jus and Yorkshire pudding is our top seller.”
Oxford County Cheese Trail Farming History
Before embarking on a cheesy Ontario road trip it’s fun to familiarize yourself with the region’s dairy history.
The first settlers to arrive in what is now Oxford County, came to the area in 1793. United Empire Loyalist Thomas Hornor is attributed to be the first. He came from New Jersey and began homesteading in the Princeton/Drumbo area of Blenheim Township.
The economy was agrarian. By 1850 there were 3,602 farmers, 174 blacksmiths, 222 carpenters, 57 coopers, 87 wagon makers, 18 tanners, 35 weavers and 83 tailors working throughout the county.
Scott Gillies, Curator of the Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum shared, “Around 1851 in Canada West (Ontario), the wheat economy was in crisis. Repetitive farming practices of only growing wheat was leading to soil exhaustion. As a result, farmers began to shift to a mixed farming economy – raising beef and dairy cattle along with a variety of crops for livestock and human consumption. This was more of a self-sufficient, home based economy. Farmers produced as much food as their family needed, with the excess being traded, bartered or sold to those in growing urban areas.”
Gillies added, “By 1855 Hiram and Lydia Ranney had established a hugely successful farm at the village of Manchester (modern-day Salford). By that time the couple were milking 100 cows by hand, as well as maintaining a large flock of sheep. Their supply of milk was so large, Lydia began making cheese and butter, which Hiram then sold in urban markets. Lydia, meanwhile, began teaching young locals how to make cheese, and how to shear sheep and turn the raw wool into woven cloth.”
The Ranney’s dairy operation was a home-based business. Their herd was large enough to sustain the cheese making. Elsewhere in Oxford County there was another farmer who initiated more of a factory system.
John Adams had established a successful farm outside of the village of Thamesford. Gillies explained, “He was making cheese with milk from his own herd, but decided to go big. Early in the 1860s he approached the neighbouring farmers and convinced them to start sending milk to his property. With this increase in volume, he was able to move out of the summer kitchen and construct a separate cheese factory where the milk was transformed into cheese.”
At the same time American cheese maker Harvey Farrington, from New York, introduced the concept of pooling all the milk to manufacture bulk quantities of cheese. By 1864, he had garnered enough support to erect and operate the first cooperatively owned cheese factory in all of Canada.
By 1866, there were half a dozen cheese factories operating in Oxford County. British cheese factories could not meet the demand for cheese from the growing population during the industrial revolution. Likewise, due to the US Civil War, no American cheese was being imported into Britain; trade embargoes had been imposed. The Canadian colony however was part of the British Empire and not subject to any such trade restrictions.
Oxford County Cheese Trail History
So how did entrepreneurial cheese farmers in Oxford County differentiate their cheese from what was already available in England? They made a mammoth wheel of cheese!
“The combined milk was transformed into a giant wheel of cheese that weighed 7,300 pounds. It measured 3 feet deep and nearly 7 feet in diameter. Made in the Harris Cheese Factory, located on the present-day site of the Elm Hurst Inn & Spa, this mammoth was ready for transport by late August of 1866,” said Gillies.
To promote its arrival, a local brass band was hired to parade the cheese through the streets of Liverpool. It was then put on display. Admission was charged to see and taste this massive Canadian cheese. It proved to be so popular, the bulk of it was sold and James Harris returned to Canada with a fistful orders for more of their Oxford County cheese!
The birth of the Canadian cheese industry began in Oxford County. The volume of cheese produced in the region was phenomenal and as a result Oxford became known as the Dairy Capital of Canada. For the next 100 years, between 1860 and 1960, “Ingersoll” and “cheese” were synonymous terms.
Plan a trip along the Oxford County Cheese Trail today to sample the regions delicious history!
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