Pine River Cheese, a farmer-owned co-operative, was established in 1885 in Huron Township (Bruce County), on the banks of the Pine River, near the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada. The original purpose of the company was to manufacture and sell cheese and butter, and to buy, keep, fatten, and sell hogs. The present day company is concerned primarily with the manufacturing and sale of cheese.
In 1885, 1500 shares were sold in the company at $2.00 apiece to raise the capital to build the original factory, shown above. It was erected at a cost of $1,594.00.
The first cheesemaker was Henry White; the first President was John Thompson; and the first Secretary was Donald Blue. Cheesemakers succeeding Mr. White were Henderson, W.A. Bell, Clayton Bell, Frank Smith, Charles Liddle, Dave Park, Mervyn Eckmier, Glen Martin, Donald Martin, Ken Neable Sr., and Bradley Quaile.
In 1888 a new residence was built for the cheesemaker at a cost of $497.00. In 1963, Mr. Eckmier retired leaving the house vacant. It was demolished in 1967.
At a meeting called in 1939, it was explained that the company had lost track of most of the shares, and that no dividends had been paid. A discussion led to the decision to sell all interest and good will for the sum of $1.00 to a Co-operative (simply a membership), and have the company surrender its charter, and apply for a new co-operative charter.
Hydro was installed in 1940. The curing room was enlarged, and mechanical refrigeration was put in place. In 1947, year-round production began. Previously, production took place about seven months of the year.
In March of 1958, Pine River Cheese amalgamated with Huron Cheese and Butter Co-Operative. Much needed modern equipment was installed, to a cost of $72,000.00. Then in 1962, a new curing room was added, and the make room and receiving facilities were enlarged. The next year, the company's first full-time secretary was hired (Mrs. Laura McNain), and a new cheese press and churn were purchased. The next year, 1964, the 90 pound round blocks of cheese were replaced by the 40 pound square blocks, still used today. Later that year, a tanker truck was used for the first time to transport bulk milk to the factory. Prior to bulk milk shipments, milk cans were used to ship the raw milk to the factory. In 1965, a 60,000 pound milk storage tank was installed, an extension was built to house the culture room, and a new new well was drilled. During 1967, a new curd mill was purchased and new cooling plates were added to the existing plates. Another major upgrade occurred in 1970, including the addition of a retail store, office space, employees' lunch room, a packaging room, and an electrical room.
Then, on October 26th, 1981, fire destroyed over one half of the original Pine River Cheese Factory. The rest of the building suffered extensive smoke and heat damage. Some production equipment was salvaged, but thousands of pounds of cheese were lost. A make-shift trailer was erected across the road which housed a very small office and retail store. A refrigerated unit was used to house the bulk cheese bought back from wholesalers, and used to keep the store open, until the factory could get going again. After numerous meetings and discussions, the decision was made to rebuild. A sod turning ceremony was held on May 7, 1982 and construction began on the new facility, being built around the corner from the former site. The new highway location was chosen for easy accessibility, greater exposure to the public, and the hope of capitalizing on the tourist trade. The building itself is of steel frame construction, a brick front, and coloured steel on the remaining sides. The new facility boasts a 280 foot drilled well, and a special expoxy flooring in the processing area. This floor is resistant to the acids used in the production of cheese, and has a non-skid surface. Stainless steel equipment salvaged from the old plant was put into place, as well as new milk silos. The most unique feature of the new processing plant is the large observation gallery. To our knowledge, it is the only one of its kind. We encourage people to watch cheese being made from the observation room.
During the 1990's, a new enlarged lagoon and sprinkling system for washwater disposal was put into place. A tanker truck hauls the whey away from the plant, seven times a week. In the busy season, about 89,000 lbs. per truck load is hauled away daily. This whey is trucked to hog farms to be used to feed pigs.
The company had been making steady progress with cheese production, increasing from 121,187 pounds of cheese in 1930 to 552,785 lbs. of cheese in 1949. Today, Pine River Cheese manufactures and sells over 2.25 million lbs. of cheese, annually. At the end of the 1990's the factory has shifted its cheese focus from bulk production to wholesale / retail.
There are 35 patrons who have an interest in Pine River Cheese & Butter Co-Operative. A patron must be a dairy producer and must live within a certain radius of the factory. If a patron sells his milk quota and herd, his position becomes vacant and other dairymen can apply to fill the void. The successful candidate is announced at the annual meeting.
The plant is now run by a board of directors (5), who are dairy producers, led by a president with a two year term. There have been 29 Presidents since 1885. The daily operation of the plant is the responsibility of the Plant Manager. Currently, there are 40 to 45 full- and part-time employees, a considerable increase from the 18 employed during the latter days of the old plant.
Pine River Cheese can be purchased at over 800 locations in Ontario, and our own retail store.