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Gay Lea Foods buys Black River Cheese


Gay Lea Foods announced an agreement yesterday to purchase Prince Edward County’s Black River Cheese Company effective June 1.

Gay Lea Foods is an award-winning artisan cheese maker, producing a wide variety of cheeses for retail and foodservice under current cheese brands, Salerno and Ivanhoe. The addition of Black River Cheese builds on Gay Lea Foods’ existing cheese operations in Hamilton and Madoc.

For the past 115 years, Black River Cheese has been a Prince Edward County icon, having been established in 1901 as an outlet for its dairy farmer shareholders’ milk to make and sell cheese locally. It has now become a sizeable cheese manufacturing company with its brand name well known across Ontario.  It is the last of the orginal 26 factories once operating throughout Prince Edward County.

It also survived a devasting fire in October, 2001, just months after celebrating its 100th anniversary that June. The farmers’ co-operative owners rebuilt the factory and went on to continue producing award-winning cheeses.

“Gay Lea Foods is committed to growing the market for Canadian dairy and strengthening dairy farmers’ ability to secure markets for our milk,” said Steve Dolson, chair of the board, in a statement. “We are pleased to welcome the Black River Cheese Company into our dairy co-operative as part of our continued support for the Canadian dairy industry and Ontario dairy farmers.”

“In Gay Lea, Black River has found a new owner that will grow the Black River brand throughout Ontario, providing it with a solid manufacturing and marketing base,” said Fraser Berrill, President, Black River Cheese Ltd.

Gay Lea will continue to operate the company store in Milford. Retail and food service customers will also continue to be served from the Prince Edward County based operations.

Gay Lea Foods has also recently acquired shares in Mariposa Dairy Ltd, which produces goat and sheep cheese using Ontario fresh goat and sheep milk for Canadian and U.S. markets.

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  1. Jason Parks says:

    Gary, how many dairy farms do you THINK are south of say, Mariner’s Museum? I can think of possibly one.
    Again, this sale has nothing to do with wind turbines. It’s about a factory that was wisely built on the banks of a river in 1901. In 2016, that wisdom is now folly. They couldn’t expand to meet production demand and the cost to bring the factory’s waste water treatment system up to current standards (that would meet demand) are going to cost $500k -$1 million. Location of the facility and Minstry of Environment regulations are the root cause of the shareholders deciding to sell.

  2. Emily says:

    Gary; some have no idea and refuse to educate themselves of the impact of electromagnetic fields. The associated cancers are a known. But you will never win over the non believers or those associated with nice little $$ lease contracts. $$ rule.

  3. Gary says:

    Judy; this has nothing to do with Internet garble. This comes from the farmers mouths. I trust that over Internet or government biased studies. Farmers have a pretty good handle on what is happening.

  4. judy kennedy says:

    there is no scientific association between wind turbines and milk production. stop reading that crap on the internet–just makes you look gullible and foolish

  5. Gary says:

    Milk production down in Huron County. Also down early on Wolfe Island. And per usual around the world where Turbines are mixed with agriculture, miscarriages are up significantly.

  6. hockeynan says:

    How many farmers milk near the turbines.You guys just don’t know.Wolfe island farmers say there cows milk better

  7. Gary says:

    Makes sense to sell now. Milk production for cows drops when they are subjected to the impacts of Turbines. Now the non believers can have at it!

  8. Rosalyn says:

    It is not about cheese or wind turbines it is about the staff who are losing year round jobs in an area where they are very hard to find.

  9. Susan says:

    Kevin, the bringing in of product; is that why the cheese is no where’s as good as years gone by. Personally I prefer Empire out of Campbellford or Maple Dale on Hwy 37. Far superior.

  10. Jason Parks says:

    Kevin, if you want to point out their lack of sponsorship of local hockey or soccer teams, fine. I’d point out they were making quarterly donations to the Picton United Church Food Bank that were usually in the $2-300 range through collection at their cheese sampling tables. I believe the program saw them matching the donations dollar for dollar.

  11. kevin says:

    While I am not aware of the circumstances surrounding the sale, and I will not contribute to assumptions leading to further confusion and gossip, here’s what I have learned over the last 30 years.
    Black River Cheese refused to sponsor or support local children’s athletics in the community. They slammed the door several times upon being solicited to support local children’s and community activities.
    Permit fees were waived by the County when rebuilding after the devastating fire it sustained several years ago.
    Cheese product has been purchased outside the county, transported here and sold under the Black River Cheese label.
    Long time dedicated staff have just been notified they will no longer have a job by month’s end.
    Not being a fan of corporate take overs, especially here in the County, I speculate that not much will change at all. Perhaps better management of a fond and precious County asset. After all, what are we really losing? I say, nothing that wasn’t there to begin with.
    Just my thoughts.

  12. Susan says:

    Come on now, almost everyone wants out if they can be lucky enough to get a sale. Marketability drops significantly once the Turbines take over the landscape. But paint it as you see fit. All I know is that I am very glad I do not have a home investment in that soon to be industrialized area of the County.

  13. Jason Parks says:

    The sale of Black River Cheese to Dairy Cooperative Gay Lea Foods has absolutely zero to do with wind turbines. On Thursday in the Picton Gazette, you will be able to read what Gay Lea plans to do with the facility and, hopefully, why the shareholders felt that this sale was necessary at this time.

  14. Susan says:

    Yes it is.

  15. Marnie says:

    The cheese factory was sold because of the wind turbines? That’s a bit like a conspiracy theory.

  16. Susan says:

    Lack of sense would be to ignore the impact that Industrial Turbines are having in a lot of decision making in southern Prince Edward. From potential purchases to attempting to sell and get out. Disclosure of what is about to take place is a legal requirement. When you see the mess Huron County is in with 270 of these turbines and another 270 to come, their health issues, total change of the landscape, you wonder why the people are always wrong and the government right.

  17. Marnie says:

    No drama queens here Mark. The sky is not falling but the county just lost something that set it apart. Do you think Gay Lea will leave that little factory as it is today? Not likely. It will be the new and improved cheese factory with everything slick and ultra modern. The sky may not be falling but it’s fair to say its overcast. Those of us who lament the change have no lack of sense as you suggest, but rather a strong sense of what makes a place unique. Sorry it is all lost on you.

  18. Mark R says:

    Jason and Gary, making too much sense for these comment threads!

    You’re supposed to blame wind turbines and pretend the sky is falling.

  19. Gary Mooney says:

    Black River was a cooperative owned by farmers, and now it is part of a much larger cooperative owned by farmers.

    As I understand it, Black River had financial difficulties in recent years, and was in danger of bankruptcy. Now it has a new lease on life.

    Hopefully, we won’t notice the difference, and it will continue in business for another 100+ years.

  20. Jim says:

    I agree with Susan. Along with with a consistant decline in quality, the Factory charges considerably more for it’s product than its competitors

  21. Jason Parks says:

    Gay Lea isn’t exactly big business like Saputo in that it’s a cooperative with over 1,200 Ontario Dairy Farmers as stakeholders. In fact, with this acquisition, Black River now has more actual producing Prince Edward County Dairy Farmers as stakeholders (16 County Dairy Farms are Gay Lea Members). The past BlackShare holders had one or two milk producing members. The majority had sold their quota in the past 20 years.

  22. Marnie says:

    The cheese from Black River has won numerous awards and tastes a whole lot better than a lot of the other brands out there. The specialty cheeses are pricey but good. Very sad to see our last remaining cheese factory go. Bit by bit the county is being sold out. It’s not survival, Susan, for what will be left one day is a far different place with all of the best features missing. It’s more like extinction.

  23. Fred says:

    Probably a very smart move by shareholders prior to industrialization of the area.

  24. Emily says:

    Nobody wants to stay invested in a cheese factory that will soon be surrounded by Industrial Wind Turbines. No customers and the cattle can’t consistently reproduce or provide milk.

  25. Susan says:

    I hope the cheese improves! It was tasteless. Nothing like it used to be. No wonder the shareholders grabbed the $$.

  26. Dennis Fox says:

    I don’t pretend to know a lot about cheese making, but I wonder if part of the reason for this sale is based on the declining number of dairy farmers in PEC? I would imagine that like many farm operations, that the young people don’t want to stay and be farmers. So perhaps the sale of this business is a good way to ensure that it remains open here in PEC for many years to come. However, it is a sad milestone in our history.

  27. Loretta Salet says:

    Sad to see a 115 year wonderful locally owned business being sold out to ‘big biz’. I hope Drew is right and the cheese remains the same, but think that is unlikely.

  28. Susan says:

    It’s the way to survive Marnie. Not saying it is good or right. But for the cheese, Black River has been way low on my list for quite sometime. Nothing compared to what it was 25 years ago. Last of 26 cheese factories. Not sure why all our canning factories had to go as I thought our tomatoes in particular were superior to any.

  29. Marnie says:

    Another piece of the county gone.

  30. Susan says:

    Maple Dale cheeses has Black River beat by a long shot. “Huge”!

  31. wevil says:

    will it stay open or close

  32. Drew Byford says:

    It’s the way of the world. The big get bigger and the Mom and Pop shops either sell out or close. I’m sure the premium to the shareholders was very attractive hence the decision to sell. To the locals Black River Cheese will now loose some of it’s small town charm however I’m sure it will still deliver the quality products its widely known for.

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