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Gay Lea buys Ontario artisanal cheesemaker


Another storied eastern Ontario artisanal cheesemaker is set to go co-op.

Gay Lea Foods, billed as Ontario’s biggest and Canada’s second-biggest dairy co-operative, announced a deal Wednesday to buy Black River Cheese Co. effective June 1 for an undisclosed sum.

Based in Prince Edward County at Milford, about 45 km southeast of Belleville, Black River was set up by area farmers in 1901 and rebuilt its operations for handcrafting cheese after its factory was destroyed by fire in 2001.

Today it markets its cheddar, mozzarella, brick, fresh curd and flavoured mozzarella through “natural” health food stores and specialty sections of supermarkets. The company in 2010 got $264,000 in provincial funding to upgrade its wastewater treatment system.

Gay Lea, in its release, pledged that the Black River store would remain open “as part of the continued commitment to the local community and thriving agri-food sector in Prince Edward County.”

Black River’s retail and food service customers will also continue to be served from the Black River plant, Gay Lea said.

Gay Lea includes 1,240 dairy farmer owners and over 3,800 members, and has been expanding its cheese lines through acquisitions in recent years. The Milford plant, Gay Lea said, will build on its own cheese operations at Hamilton and Madoc, Ont.

The co-op recently bought a stake in goats’-milk cheesemaker Mariposa Dairy at Lindsay, Ont. and also recently broadened its membership to include licenced dairy goat producers.

Gay Lea, whose product lines include butter, sour cream, cottage cheese and whipped cream, makes cheeses for the retail and foodservice sectors under established Ontario brands including Salerno, which it bought in 2014, and Ivanhoe, which it bought in 2008.

The co-op also bought family-owned dairy processor Hewitt’s Dairy of Hagersville, Ont. in 2014. — Network

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