Say Cheese! Ride Ontario’s Artisan Cheese Trail
If you love cheese you’ll want to take a motorcycle ride through Ontario’s farmland roads and along the truly crafty “Cheese Trail”. In less than 90 minutes from Toronto, you can visit and explore a region in south-western Ontario filled with artisanal Canadian cheese makers. Cheeses made exclusively from small manufacturers producing the best and most delicious cheese in the world – and that makes for a captivating, appetizing ride!
My pleasures along the “Cheese Trail” were highlighted by exploring and sampling the some of the many delectable artisan cheese makers. It was surprising to learn that each year cheese production in Canada is close to 400,000 tons where just over half are of being specialty cheeses. Ontario accounts for about 30 per cent of the country’s total cheese production and it was in this region along the Cheese Trail in the 1800’s, 98 separate cheese factories existed. Those numbers don’t exist today, yet the area’s rich history–alongside the current artisan and large corporate cheese makers – still remains. And this year, four area cheese makers were nominated for the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix– a prestigious national competition honouring Canadian cheese makers and three from this region came home with an award.
The “Cheese Trail’s” rich history in dairy and cheese can been seen throughout all you’ll enjoy during this fine country ride. I spent as little time as possible getting to my start point in Bright. So here below are the details of my exploration of the Cheese Trail!
CHEESE TRAIL ROUTE
Toronto to Bright:
Bright Cheese & Butter 81603 Oxford Road 22, Bright, Ontario. (124kms/90mins)
Bright Cheese and Butter was established in 1874 by a group of local farmers. Well known for all natural, naturally aged cheese made with 100% local milk.
No matter how you get there, I started my cheese tour in Bright. Production occurs on this farm where once inside you’ll see the cheese being made and packaged first hand. Bright Cheese & Butter, don’t make butter any more yet their cheddar and white cheese specialties are highly sought.
Take a sit on the picnic table outside sample your cheese with some of the added crackers sold inside.
Bright to Woodstock:
The Wooden Pearl – 714624 Middletown Line, Woodstock, Ontario (32kms/23mins)
Here you’ll find a quaint boutique nestled amidst the trees featuring all local artisan items. There’s furniture, pottery, encaustics (beeswax art), hand-crafted and unique scarves, jewellery, and other whimsical home décor. Started and managed by Christa Bakker, Danielle Paluska and Jenessa VanRooyen, sisters and sister-in-law who wanted to showcase local area artisan’s crafts. Daniella creates Wild Comfort natural skin care products and famed Goat’s Milk Soap (made right on the premise) of which is a must purchase! Fabulous shop with a warm friendly, family welcome.
Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese – 445172 Gunn’s Hill Road, Woodstock (6kms/8mins)
These cheeses are truly spectacular and their long list of awards, outside of your own taste buds, will back up their artistries. The farm side located cheese plant sits within the heart of the dairy capital of Canada. Their cheeses are made with milk from their neighbouring family dairy farms the Friesvale Farms. Gunn’s Hill ensures their cheeses are hand crafted using traditional cheese-making methods, just one of the secrets to their top quality and taste.
You can take a tour and sample their cheeses and bouncy curds. I left with a chunk of “Five Brothers” cheese – a Gouda and Swiss Appenzeller cross. Delicious!
TIP: Light gravel road access, with zero or little traffic. Good conditions.
Woodstock to Ingersoll
Louie’s Pizza Pasta and More – 440 Bell Street, Ingersoll Ontario (27kms/30mins)
Louie’s is all it’s reputed to be- great food in a fun environment. There’s a roomie nostalgic indoor sphere and a terrific outdoor terrace where you can keep full view of your motorcycle and the other’s which come and go. Louie’s is extremely popular with local bikers. There’s also a former gas station canopy to park under if rain threatens. Plus as I learned, the owner and most the staff are motorcycle riders!
Patina’s Gifts of Art and Craft – 112 Thames South Ingersoll, Ontario (2kms/4mins)
This boutique is packed to the walls with beautiful Canadian pottery, handmade gifts, jewellery and unique finds. Tasteful, quaint items it will be difficult not to leave without something unique from Patina’s. Kathy Boyd extended a friendly tour around the shop pointing out variations of beautiful pottery and accent items. I couldn’t keep my eye off the silver earrings!
Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum (ICAM) 290 Harris Street (2mins/1.5km)
A beautiful grounds and setting to explore- there’s even a place to camp and a popular playground for kids. But the big story you’ll be told about first is of the famous 7,300 pound wheel of cheese. The story is from 1866 and of a 7,300 pound cheese co-manufactured by local producers which put Ingersoll on the map. The famous “Mammoth Cheese” travelled to exhibitions in Toronto, Sarasota New York, Paris France and London England.
The museum also tells of it first settler in 1795, Thomas Ingersoll, the father of Laura Secord (famous chocolates!) who founded the village of Oxford-on -the Thames.
Definitely worth the tour.
Elm Hurst Inn and Spa 415 Harris Street, Ingersoll, Ontario
Here the last stop along the Cheese Trail which makes for an ideal dinner – or spend the night and take in a spa treat. a wonderful finale to the day. As you ride into the Elm Hurst Inn you feel you’ve gone back in time. The Inn’s gothic revival style was the home of cheese maker James Harris and family for over a century. On the grounds in In 1865 James Harris built the James Harris Cheese Factory. And it was this cheese factory which was the birthplace of a 7,300 pound cheese featured in the ICAM earlier; co-manufactured by local producers. The Harris family later planted commercial apple orchards and the Inn’s arched buffet room is the original apple shed! So the Inn represents the birthplace of the Canadian commercial cheese industry has been a landmark since 1872.
At the end of the trail, and close to the highway, I connected onto the 401 eastbound to the 403 Hamilton returning to downtown Toronto.
The Cheese Trail is a wonderful day trip to enjoy filled of surprising local discoveries and delectable cheese! The ride will total about 360kms from Toronto (downtown) and return with about 4.5 hours riding time excluding stops so do allow yourself the full day. This way you’ve ample time to leisurely nibble and taste test the variety of cheeses along the way. And you won’t want to rush browsing local artisan’s crafts or the tours in either Gunn’s Hills cheese factory or the Ingersoll Cheese Museum. Plus you will want to enjoy either of the restaurants mentioned – or both.
Small-scale cheese-making and “locally obtained food” is the new best thing. Discovering the rich avail of Ontario’s finest In 1865 James Harris built dairy and cheeses amidst the pleasures of these rolling country roads makes for a perfect combo – say cheese!
Here’s a link to the Map – – -Enjoy!
By Vicki Gray