Once upon a time in our greater region, chocolate lovers knew that Smiths Falls, Ontario was a special destination. The town’s Hershey Chocolate plant was where generations of school groups went for factory tours. And where chocoholics like me went to stock up at the souvenir and factory seconds store.
Readers may recall the town of St. Albert was devastated when, on Feb 3, 2013, a massive fire destroyed their cheese factory. It was the mainstay of a dairy co-op founded in 1894, and a source of award-winning cheese.
In true co-op style, the dairy farms, co-op workers and town residents vowed to carry on and re-build.
Flash forward to a grand official re-opening, two years to the date, celebrating a new factory, a functioning restaurant and the realization of some very hard work.
From a co-op press release:
“We are so happy to turn the page on this sad chapter in our Co-op’s story. Happy and proud. Because here we are, bigger, stronger and more determined than ever to continue the tradition of our ancestors by making the best cheese in the country,” indicated the Co-op’s President, Ginette Quesnel. The new building measures 75,000 square feet, which is larger than the old one. It contains a restaurant and a shop, as well as a section that will eventually be turned into a museum, and it provides visitors with a terrific view of the cheese production area. As for the production capacity, it is now three times what it was before.
As recounted by this Ottawa Citizen article (with video):
The total cost of the reconstruction was more than $30 million. The result is a state-of-the art 75,000-square-foot building that is about 30 per cent bigger than the original factory. The building, with its wood and stone exterior, incorporates rustic features such as barn-wood doors and columns set against a modern, open space that includes a new restaurant with comfort food such as sandwiches, soup and poutine that, of course, incorporates a lot of cheese.
The store is also three times the size of the original, with local niche products such as chutneys, honey, oils and vinegar. And given it has always been a tourism hub, there is also a section that will soon be turned into a museum that will additionally provide visitors with a clear view of the new cheese production area.
St-Albert cheese and their famed cheese curds are considered a local mainstay. After all, the products are sold at some 2,000 locations in eastern Ontario and western Quebec.
But now you can also go to the source and watch how it’s done in person. And buy some cheese, or a meal, including vegetarian poutine (menu available as a .pdf download here.)
All in all, it’s a good example of preserving and promoting a regional way of life.