Following Ontario’s Cheese Trail
Home to more than 70 varieties of cheese, Oxford County is Canada’s Dairy Capital. Here’s how to follow the region’s Cheese Trail for a road trip full of delicious memories.
Photo: Vanessa Chiasson
Welcome to the Oxford County Cheese Trail
When you step onto the lawn of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese in Woodstock, Ontario, a funny sight greets you—a huge pile of topsy-turvy cheese wheels, looking plump, delicious, and ready for a photo opp. Now they’re not actual wheels of cheese, but part of a fun statue. However, you’d be forgiven for taking a second glance. After all, you’re in Oxford County—Canada’s Dairy Capital—a region which put itself on the map as home to more than a hundred small cheese factories in the 1800s. If any place deserves to erect a towering tribute to cheese, this is it.
Visiting the Gunn’s Hill cheese monument is a fun way to kick off a pilgrimage to all things dairy along the Oxford County Cheese Trail. Eight local companies make more than 70 varieties of cheese which can explored via a self-guided route featuring 24 stops in the area.
But the Oxford County Cheese Trail is about much more than treats and tours. As I visited 13 of its 24 stops, I was told again and again how the Cheese Trail was about community first and cheese second. I began the road trip by heading out from Ottawa (with a cooler by my side to keep purchases cool). Some stops took just a few minutes, enough time to say hello, try a few tasty samples, and maybe buy some cheese to bring home. Others lasted hours with guided tours and farm programs that involved plenty of cheese, conversation, and connection.
Oxford County is a 90 minute drive southwest from downtown Toronto. Via Rail also has stops in Woodstock and Ingersoll. Navigating the area is made easy with QR codes sharing extra information and route suggestions are displayed at participating businesses. You can also find cycling routes at Tourism Oxford, and read up on road trip suggestions.
Exactly how you decide to go about the Oxford County Cheese Trail is up to you. Maps are available at all locations and other local businesses, and official stops are marked with a cheese-themed sign. Keep reading to check out my route through the Cheese Trail, and get inspiration to plan your own cheesy road trip this season.
Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese, Woodstock
More than 300 Ontario locations carry Gunn’s Hill cheese, but this family-run dairy is very much a local’s spot. You’ll be hard-pressed to visit a regional eatery that doesn’t feature their products. Gunn’s Hill, in turn, incorporates local wine, beer, and coffee into their cheese. Tours are available by advanced booking, where cheesemaker and co-owner Shep Ysselstein walks visitors through all aspects of the production, from where the milk from their Holstein cows is stored to how hundreds of wheels of cheese are aged, and even hand-turned on a regular basis. The experience concludes with a tasting. Some noteworthy varieties to sample include Dark Side Of The Moo (which is washed with Dark Side Chocolate Stout, from Woodstock’s Upper Thames Brewery) and Tipsey (which is soaked in Palatine Hills Cabernet Merlot).
After my tour, more Gunn’s Hill cheese awaited me at Woodstock’s Brickhouse Brewpub, another Cheese Trail destination where they use the maker’s cheese curds on their poutine. The servings here are famously generous, so much so that when one Oxford County resident heard of my dinner plans, they said I’d be so full, “they’ll have to roll you out of there in a barrel!”
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Wild Comfort, Woodstock
Since 2014, owner Danielle Paluska has transformed local goat milk into soaps, bath products, and lotions. But Wild Comfort is more than a pretty toiletry shop. Hands-on workshops are available by advanced registration and I joined Danielle’s niece Aliyah in making felted soap (a blend of soap trimmings are wrapped in hand-dyed wool and felted so the wool shrinks around the soap as you use it). Aliyah guided me through the process of decorating my own felt with different coloured strands of wool and then instructed me on how to tightly pull the final product around the soap while dunking it in a bucket of steaming hot water so the wool would shrink and adhere to the soap.
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Red Dragon Dairy, Salford
Old-fashioned Welsh hospitality has made the Red Dragon Dairy a go-to spot for locals who love sheep’s milk cheeses. Owner Ellis Morris serves up samples of pecorino, manchego, and feta (a delightfully sharp, salty, and crumbly treat) with a smile, all while fielding requests for his famous cheese curds. He experiments with interesting flavours, including different mixed herbs and chilis. The small shop also sells a wide variety of imported British chocolates and snacks, local meat and produce, and even its own homemade bread.
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Udderly Ridiculous Farm Life, Bright
It’s hard to take life too seriously at Udderly Ridiculous. Owner Cheryl Haskett’s program literally walks guests through all aspects of farming by taking participants on an alpaca walk. Visitors grab a leash and take a soft alpaca on an exercise session. I was paired with Stanley, a handsome fellow with chocolate brown fur whose described as the “bad boy” of the group. As I tried to keep Stanley on the path and away from the tempting alfalfa fields, Cheryl shared some of the challenges of running a multi-generational farm. Soil health, equipment recycling, and nursing sick animals are just some of the daunting tasks she takes on. But laughter punctuates the day as goats come over to play and chickens sashay in the pasture. The program concludes with some final animal snuggles and a flight of Udderly Ridiculous’ homemade goat milk ice cream, including chocolate infused with beer and coffee and a pumpkin spice variety that would convert anyone who doesn’t normally enjoy this trendy flavour.
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Thames River Melons, Innerkip
At Thames River Melons’ 500-acre farm, “u-pick” is taken to a new level with farmer and dietitian Alex Cheney. Her harvest brunch program starts with homemade smoothies and a visit to the chickens, followed by a picking session in the veggie fields. Then, participants head to the kitchen, where Alex shares cooking instructions that turn the harvest—which can include kale, tomatoes, leeks, onions, beets, bell peppers, and herbs—into a farm-fresh meal with plenty of local cheese mixed in. Last stop? Offering a feast of veggie scraps to the chickens.
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Ingersoll Cheese and Agricultural Museum, Ingersoll
More than 150 years of cheesemaking history is on display at the Ingersoll Cheese and Agriculture Museum. Curator Scott Gillies shares a wealth of information about Ingersoll’s heritage, including how, in 1866, three local cheese makers built a gigantic wheel of cheese, nicknamed the Mammoth Cheese, that made international headlines. At seven feet in diameter and nearly 7,300 pounds, no wonder this mega-cheddar had all of England buzzing.
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The Wine Cellar & Cheese Shop, Ingersoll
This cozy little Ingersoll shop packs a mighty punch for foodies. Owner Annelies Van Ittersum is happy to make personalized recommendations from the dozens of varieties of local and international fare on offer, and can suggest complimentary honeys, hot sauces, pickles, and preserves from among the tasty treats in her shop. She also curates a monthly cheese subscription box for local pick-up that includes up to four different types.
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The Olde Bakery Cafe, Ingersoll
The Olde Bakery Cafe cleverly incorporates local cheese in their breakfast sandwiches, bread pudding, and even coffee. My personal favourite is the Mexican cajeta latte which, sweetened with caramelized goat’s milk, is a creative take on classic cafe fare that has a richer flavour than a traditional caramel latte. This makes a lovely spot along the Oxford Country Cheese Trail to sip some coffee, perhaps nibble on a cookie or two, and catch up on emails. Don’t forget to pop into their next door neighbour, Patina’s. This cute shop stocks crafts, pottery, games, and gifts and is an official Cheese Trail stop thanks to their pretty ceramic Brie bakers.
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Bright Cheese and Butter, Bright
In business since 1874, Bright Cheese and Butter is Ontario’s oldest cheddar cheese maker—and one of its busiest. When asked how much cheese this legendary business makes, store manager Leigh-Ann Kunkel pauses and then bursts out laughing. “Lots!” is her response. After some calculations, we determined that 12,800 kilograms are made every week. The extra old cheddar has long been a bestseller.
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Mountainoak Cheese, New Hamburg
At Mountainoak Cheese, located just over the county line in Wilmot Township, owners Adam and Hannie van Bergeijk apply classic Dutch cheesemaking techniques to more than dozen varieties of Gouda. Having graduated from the renowned cheesemaking school in Gouda in 1981, the couple came to Canada intending to run a dairy farm, but their passion for cheesemaking soon kicked in. On a monthly cheese plant tour you can see how they make cumin, black truffle and wild nettle flavours.
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Habitual Chocolate, Woodstock
Chocolate and cheese? Yes, please! As owner Angela Neddo points out, after a day of savoury samples, Oxford County Cheese Trail visitors love rounding out the day with something sweet at Habitual Chocolate. Habitual uses local dairy in many of its single-source chocolate bars (dark chocolate lovers will want to check out their 90% and 100% cacao bars), homemade ice cream (including a golden raspberry flavour), and luscious drinks like a dark chocolate mocha.
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Elm Hurst Inn & Spa, Ingersoll
In 1865, local cheesemaker James Harris built a factory on what is now the grounds of the Elm Hurst Inn & Spa. Today, this elegant estate honours its heritage through an Oxford County Cheese Trail bed and breakfast package that includes a cheese platter, Ontario wine, and chocolates. There are still some traces of the original factory on the site, most notably in the buffet room, which was originally an apple shed.
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