Gouda. Cheddar. Brie. Curds.
I love them all!
When I discovered that there is a Cheese Trail in Ontario’s Oxford County, just an hour and a half from my home in Toronto, I was excited to check it out. Oxford County is known as the Dairy Capital of Canada, producing 286,000,000 litres of milk each year. To put this in perspective, that is equivalent to 1.14 billion glasses of milk. Holy cow! (Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)
The Oxford County Cheese Trail has been created to showcase four local cheese makers, as well as a variety of restaurants, markets, arts and culture, all with a link to cheese or dairy. Admittedly, some of those links are a bit tenuous, but who cares? It was all interesting and delicious – and you need something to do in between stuffing yourself with free cheese samples.
There are a total of 20 stops on the Oxford County Cheese Trail, located in and around Woodstock, Ingersoll, and Tillsonburg. I visited 8 of them, plus 3 cheese makers, in about a day and a half. Here, in photos, is an overview of the trip.
The first stop was Mountainoak Cheese, makers of more than 16 types of Gouda, produced from their own milk, right on the farm. I toured the facility, and you can actually see the cows through the window while you're making the cheese. Now, that's local!
Up next was Bright Cheese and Butter, which has been in business since 1874. They produce a variety of cheddars, asiago, colby, monterey jack, feta, havarti, and curds. Their milk is sourced from surrounding farms – 45,000 litres a day.
Then it was time for a little shopping at The Wooden Pearl, which was chock-full of handmade items by local artisans. From jewelry to wooden cheeseboards to soap made from local goat's milk, there was something for everyone – and the prices were very reasonable. Note to self: return before Christmas.
Time for lunch! I can honestly say that this was an unexpected surprise. Sixthirtynine restaurant blew me away with their artfully presented and freshly delicious local and seasonal dishes. I would (I will!) drive out to Woodstock again just to eat here. With an ever-changing menu incorporating local products, including, of course, cheese, as well as produce from their own and neighboring gardens, I'm certain there will always be something new and tasty to try. If you are the type of solo traveler who likes to sit at the bar, there's a treat in store for you here: there is a separate area where you can have a front-row seat to watch all the action in the kitchen! Call ahead, though as there are only 4 seats available.
Next, it was off to the Woodstock Art Gallery. What is the connection to cheese, you might ask? Well, they serve local cheese at exhibition openings, of course! That alone would be reason enough to attend, but they also have an interesting collection housed in a lovely building. Wandering through the gallery makes for a nice quiet, cool diversion from all the eating on this tour.
Continuing the cultural part of the Trail, the Ingersoll Cheese and Agricultural Museum was next. This is the sort of place that I would have rolled my eyes at if my parents had taken me there as a kid. Truth be told, I may have done a little of that at the thought of visiting this time around. Luckily, I can admit when I'm wrong! It was really interesting, especially with a guided tour to add context and colorful anecdotes. It was particularly interesting to discover that cheese is still made in the same way today that it was over 100 years ago.
And now, for something sweet. Cindy Walker is a professional chocolatier and tea sommelier. How great a combination is that? At Chocolatea, she makes handmade chocolates and other sweet treats (she let me try some red licorice she was making that day) and has an entire wall of tea for you to choose from. The chocolates are amazing, and so was the chai slushie that I sampled.
With all of the cheese, chocolate, and tea that you may be acquiring along the Oxford County Cheese Trail, you are going to need something to serve it all on. Patina's Gifts of Art and Craft to the rescue! This gift shop is literally stuffed to the rafters with gift ideas including a large collection of Canadian handmade pottery. Need a lovely platter for that cheese? This is the place to get it.
Then, it was time to relax. I couldn't imagine a better place to do that than Elm Hurst Inn & Spa. There are so many different spots to sit and enjoy the lush surroundings, fountains, and colorful flowers. Set on 30 acres of land, you can stroll the grounds or, as in my case, enjoy a gin & tonic before dinner. Built in 1872, the building itself is stunning, and a very popular wedding venue – Elm Hurst was hosting 6 weddings the weekend that I was there! I didn't have time to visit the spa, but did enjoy a leisurely dinner in the restaurant.
The next morning, coffee was definitely in order. Conveniently, The Olde Bakery Cafe is a stop on the Cheese Trail. I devoured their specialty, the Cajeta Latte, which features Mexican caramel made in Ingersoll with local milk. It was a sweet way to start the day. Note for the gluten intolerant: they have a great selection of in-house made products.
Last, but most certainly not least, was my final cheese tour and tasting of the trip at Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese. Using milk from the family farm, Gunn's Hill produces some unique cheeses that combine different elements. The cheesemaker studied in Switzerland, so there is a definite Swiss influence in some of the varieties. Apparently, those in the know are aware that the cheese curds at Gunn's Hill are ready at noon on Fridays, so a steady stream of customers come through to get their fix of squeaky goodness!
The Oxford County Cheese Trail was a lot of fun – and I only saw half of it! As a solo traveler, you can pick and choose the stops that you want to make and go at your own pace. I would recommend not trying to pack too many visits into one day – take your time, enjoy the scenery between stops, and, most importantly, take a cooler. You're going to want to bring some cheese home with you. I bought 7 different varieties, and I felt that showed considerable restraint on my part. Oh yes, and water – take lots of water. You are going to work up a thirst tasting all that salty, cheesy goodness!