Empire Cheese has roots in Northumberland County dating back to the late 1870’s when the first factory was built outside of Campbellford. At this time there were seventeen cheese factories located within Seymour Township. Local farmers brought their milk by horse and buggy to the factory, where it was produced into cheese and then sent by train to Belleville where it was graded and sold.
In the fall of 1952 a neighbouring cheese factory, Kimberly Cheese Factory burned down. In 1953, the members from Kimberly and Empire amalgamated and formed Empire Cheese and Butter Co-operative. Today, this plant still remains the home of the Empire Cheese Co-operative. A new retail store was added to the existing building in 2002.
Empire Cheese is the last remaining cheese factory in Northumberland County. It is still a co-op, with seven farm families remaining. In order to remain part of the co-op, members must be milking a dairy herd. Shares may be transferred to a son or daughter if they are taking over the family farm. If the farm or dairy quota is sold, the member must turn in his shares to the factory.
Empire Cheese is operated by a Board of Directors, a general manager, and thirty employees (including full time and part time). Staff includes production, packaging, order fulfilment, delivery drivers, retail and office staff. Cheese is produced, cut, packaged and shipped to over 300 distributors on a weekly basis throughout Central Ontario.
Empire Cheese produces cheddar and mozzarella cheese. All of our cheese is produced in open style vats using whole milk, with no preservatives additives or preservatives added to the cheddar. It is aged naturally. This also includes the production of cheddar cheese curds, which is at the heart of the business. Fresh curd is produced 6 days a week from April – October and 5 days a week from November – March. All of the milk used to produce cheese, is purchased from Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
Despite many challenges, Empire Cheese has maintained positive growth over the last several years. Our commitment to quality has helped us to slowly increase our customer base and distribution area while maintaining a loyal relationship with our long time existing customers. The growth of tourism in Northumberland County has brought more and more visitors into our retail store each year, and the movement towards knowledgeable consumers wishing to eat locally produced food has helped us to steadily grow our business.