Sign-Up For Our Newsletter
Get the best of Ontario local food in your inbox! Sign-up for the FREE Savour Ontario newsletter for the latest delicious recipes, chef and maker profiles, upcoming events, entertaining ideas, how-tos and more!
Put your hands together for Thornloe Cheese Factory! For over 80 years, Thornloe has been home to delicious Premium Cheeses, Artisan Cheese Curds and Grass-Fed Butters, all made with 100% local Ontario milk.
Thornloe’s story began in the village of Thornloe, Ontario in 1940, when founder René Laframboise started the company on a “leap of faith” to feed growing settlement in the region. Located in northeastern Ontario, the village is nestled in the Temiskaming Valley, just west of the Quebec border and roughly a two-hour drive north of North Bay. “At the turn of the century, to help feed the mining boom, forestry industry and northern development, a lot of French settlers came to Ontario from the region bordering Quebec in search of quality farmland”, shares Pamela Hamel, brand ambassador for Thornloe Cheese. “Like the region, Thornloe is very much rooted in French culture, and in our case, French cheese culture. Many local farms - including my own grandmother’s - supplied milk to Thornloe Cheese, which helped feed the local community.”
Many of Thornloe’s cheeses are inspired by the local landscape, and their location is at its epicentre. “If you took an aerial view, you’d literally see Thornloe Cheese Factory in the middle of dairy country”, says Pamela. “On busy Highway 11, you’re passing through beautiful farm country, through boreal forest between North Bay and Temagami - you’re looking at trees and lakes the whole way. Then - all of a sudden - you arrive at the top of a crest, looking down into the Temiskaming Valley that was the former basin of Lake Temiskaming, and that’s the agricultural region. It’s very impressive and very surprising.”
Pamela describes Thornloe as “that salt-of-the-earth, classic Canadian cheesemaker”, hitting all cylinders with a diverse portfolio of premium cheeses, grass-fed cheeses and butter and a playful range of artisan cheese curds. “We craft everyday comfort cheeses all the way to one-of-a-kind cheeses derived from the unique terroir of Temiskaming. They are perfect both for the everyday and for refined moments.”
The fresh milk used in all Thornloe products is sourced within a 25 km region and comes into the plant every day. Pamela attributes the distinctive flavours Thornloe products are known for to the unique qualities of northern climate dairy craft. “The climate in Northern Ontario, being so cold so many days of the year, is said to be responsible for both the richness of the milk and its signature sweet scent. It also tends to have higher butterfat, which adds to the richness and flavour of the cheeses and butters. We love to tell a story through our products and celebrate our terroir. First and foremost, we acknowledge where we are. Our curd packages even feature wild animals - a moose, a beaver, a pickerel - we acknowledge that we’re on the edge of the boreal forest. There are moose and bear in our backyard and our lakes are filled with pickerel - that’s a big part of our identity. Our customers learn about our region through our products. People genuinely have a strong interest in understanding where companies exist within the Canadian space - they want to understand the origin of their food.”
While food origin and local provenance are of increasing interest and importance to consumers, this focus on ‘taste-of-place’ has always been central to the Thornloe Cheese vision and product development. Their range of delicious products encompasses everything from classic, grass-fed, and flavoured Cheddars and mozzarella to Ontario’s first Asiago-style cheese and crème fraiche, but there are a few that Pamela recommends as ideal flavour gateways into the Thornloe taste experience.
Thornloe’s award-winning Evanturel cheese takes its name from Evanturel township, which is actually named after François-Eugène-Alfred Évanturel, the first Francophone speaker for the Ontario legislative assembly. This bloomy-rind cheese is made in large (3 kg) wheels and features a lovely, decorative vegetable ash centre that sometimes surprises people when they first cut into the wheel. “We get customers saying, “There’s a blue line through the cheese. That’s mold - I probably shouldn’t eat it.”, Pamela laughs. “That blue line is vegetable ash and an entirely edible component that imparts a little minerality to the cheese. Evanturel is reminiscent of a Morbier-style cheese. Evanturel is derived from the company’s French roots, going all the way back to France and the Morbier region.
Devil’s Rock, Thornloe’s signature blue cheese, is named after a famous local landmark. The actual Devil’s Rock is a granite escarpment at the edge of Lake Temiskaming that’s said to resemble the face of a devil when viewed from a certain angle. “It was originally called ‘Spirit Rock’ by the Indigenous people; probably because of its daunting nature, but was renamed Devil’s Rock”, shares Pamela, noting that Devil’s Rock was also used as a location in the second book in the famous Hardy Boys series, The House on the Cliff, written by local author Charles Leslie McFarlane.
Selected as one of three cheeses to represent the diversity of cheeses made in Canada for Canada 150 celebration, Devil’s Rock is made with fresh milk and has a double cream value, so it’s very spreadable and soft at room temperature.
Word of Thornloe’s repeat Grand Champion awards for their grass-fed butter at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair’s annual Canadian Cheese and butter competition has spread across the country, Pamela proudly confides. “People LOVE our grass-fed butter. We get so much feedback from customers about how it inspires food memories from trips to Europe, their childhood. It’s so rewarding. We source our grass-fed milk locally, from less than 10 farms.
Thornloe’s cheese curds are as much about fun and taste experience as they are about craft and heritage. Available in a growing range of spices and flavours including barbecue, habanero, caramelized onion, herb and garlic, pizza, cajun, dill, they are one of the most in-demand products the company creates.
In spite of ever-increasing consumer and retail orders for the curds, they are all hand rolled by Thornloe’s in-house curd specialist, Simone Beaudry. “Simone has been part of the Thornloe team for over 40 years,” says Pamela. “Thornloe’s curds are not tossed, but hand-rolled in a signature line of spices and flavours. That’s Simone’s specialty: ensuring consistency and that every curd has just the right amount of spice or flavour on it. No curd goes unrolled and does this by hand.
While many enjoy cheese curd straight up out of the bag, customers are finding unique culinary applications for Thornloe’s curds. “We have a customer in London with a pierogi shop and market stand who uses our caramelized onion curd as a fantastic pierogi fill, and a local lodge in Temagami has two days of their eight-week camp season when they feature hand-made perogies on their menu. They use Thornloe product exclusively on their island - cheeses, cheese curd and poutine curd. But I love to put curds into soups. They get all gooey and melt and can add unique flavour tones to your soup - a little heat from habanero curd or some garlic curd - whatever you want. You can even add some crostini and you have all the elements of a classic grilled cheese and tomato soup in a single bowl.