Balderson Cheese – Craving the Curd

Whenever a kid in Lanark County heard the word ‘Balderson’ spoken at their home, most of the time their thoughts turned to cheese.  The Balderson Cheese Factory was a short drive up the Lanark Road from our place, and they made the best cheese in the world.  People came from miles around to buy Balderson Cheese, curds, and butter, and our family was no different. Usually a visit to the cheese factory took place as part of a Sunday drive.

Balderson was a small hamlet situated about halfway between Perth and Lanark and was one of the earliest communities settled along with Perth.  Balderson, a suburb was also settled partly by soldiers, and partly by Scottish immigrants from Perthshire in the Scottish Highlands.  It was founded by Sergeant Balderson in June 1816.

When we spent time in Balderson during the 1960s and 1970s some of the family names were: Bell, Burns, Davidson, Devlin, Haley, Jones, Kennedy, King, McGregor, McIntyre, McTavish, Myers and Newman.

 

Balderson Cheese factory 1954

The ‘new’  factory, built after the 1929 fire

cheese curds

cheese curds

The Balderson Cheese Factory had already been operating for many decades by the time I first remember it.  The factory was established 1881.  It was formed by a group of dairy farmers of Lanark County.  They were known as the Farmer’s Cheese and Butter Association of Balderson. They decided to use the excess milk that they were each producing on their farms, build a factory, produce Cheddar cheese and sell it locally. They built a small, plain-looking, wood-frame building near the Balderson Corners crossroads.

Balderson Cheese factory

 

Loading dock Balderson Cheese factory

Balderson Cheese Factory – Loading Dock

In the early days, each dairy farmer would bring their milk by horse and wagon and drop it off at the factory.  Later, to become more efficient, special milk wagons were built and routes were established and workers from the factory would go from farm to farm picking up the milk.

Balderson 1905

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 20, 1962

 

Just twelve years after opening, the Balderson Cheese Factory was one of the twelve factories that contributed cheese to create the ‘Mammoth’ cheese for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The old timers said that it was six feet high and weighed over 20,000 lbs.

 

Mammoth cheese

In 1929, a fire burned the original factory and all that was left was the concrete floor.

Balderson rebuilt

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 13, 1929

 

Although Dad was familiar with the original factory, we had only seen the one that was rebuilt in 1930.  It was a plain-looking building and was built in a similar style to many of the other local cheese factories, in and around Perth.  There was a small sign outside and the inside they had a very small counter and sold three products: cheese –  yellow or coloured orange, cheese curds, and butter. You could buy mild cheese or old cheese, and Dad preferred the older ‘sharp’ cheese and liked to enjoy it with a slice of Mother’s homemade apple pie. The cheese was cut from rounds, wrapped in waxed paper and sealed with a piece of scotch tape.  There was one person working behind the counter that would get your cheese and ring it up on the cash register. Everyone else worked in the back.

Balderson Cheese factory cheese-maker

Cheese-Maker,  Balderson Cheese Factory

Dad would often know the person working behind the counter, and he’d ask if we could go back and watch them make the cheese.  Now, that was really interesting!  There was always a distinct smell in the factory, even at the front counter.  It smelled kind of like buttermilk, and the air always seemed very warm and humid.  It was behind the counter where all the magic took place.

Balderson 1962

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 20, 1962

 

There were huge metal vats, filled with heated milk.  I don’t know what they use now, but in those days, they added rennet to the milk to make it curdle.  Rennet was an acid which could be found in the fourth stomach of calves and was used for digestion.  When the rennet was added to the milk it curdled and formed into clumps.  The workers in the factory would walk around with long wooden paddles and stir the vats.  Some were newly curdling and were very easy to stir, others in later stages required quite a bit of muscle to stir because the curds were forming in large, heavy clumps.  In the last vat the salt was added and some of the curds were strained out and sold, but the remainder would be pressed into huge round wooden molds.  The molds were lined with cheesecloth so that the cheese wouldn’t stick when it was time to remove it.

At the rear of the old factory, double walls were built two feet thick, with sawdust packed inside as insulation to keep the cheese cool as it cured.  After the cheese was strained and pressed into molds it was stored in the curing room. The whey, the liquid that was strained from the cheese, was stored in big tanks.  In the old days the whey was returned to the farmers to use as feed, but later when tighter government regulations were introduced the whey was dumped.  Each cheese was waxed, boxed, weighed, molded, inspected, cooled, turned and shipped. The cheese was regularly inspected by Government inspectors and the stock turns over every ten days. The cheese remained in the curing room until it was shipped.

Balderson cheese vat of curd and whey

Vat of Curd and Whey

 

Cheese making was an art form in Balderson and their Master Cheese Maker when I was a kid, was Omar Matte. Mr. Matte had begun making cheese when he was fifteen working for his father in St. Albert.  By the 1960s he had been making cheese for 27 years. In those days, Mr. Matte would mold 120 tons of cheese per year and most was shipped to the Sanderson Grading Station in Oxford where it went on to foreign markets. Ten tons of cheese on average was sold locally in the Balderson area. Over 100 tons of cheese and 9,000 pounds of butter produced yearly by the mid 1960s and sold all over North America.

There were many Master Cheese Makers before him – Chris J. Bell of Perth, James Somerville of Boyd’s, Walter Partridge of the Scotch Line, James Prentice of Perth, Charles Gallery of Perth, Robert Lucas of Jasper and Percy George of Christie Lake.

 

Balderson Cheesemakers

1881-1887  W. Brown

1888-1891  J. Milton 1888-1891

1892-1901  W.D. Simes

1902-1904  E.E. Haley

1905-1911  J.M. Scott

1912-1917  T.K. Whyte

1918-1921  M. Haley

1922-1929  A. Quinn

1930  G. Spencer

1931-1937  P. Kirkham

1937-1939  J.L. Prentice

1939-1941  C.J. Bell

1941-1942  J. Somerville

1943  W. Partridge

1944-1955  C. Gallery

1956-1958  R. Lucas

1959-1960  P. George

1961-1966  O. Matte

1966-1974  Y. Leroux

1975-1980  L. Lalonde

1980  N. Matte

As the years passed by, the cheese gained tremendous popularity, news of the product spread, and the little business was bought by a large company.  After many decades the Balderson Cheese business has changed hands many times.

You can still find Balderson cheese today, and many types and grades of cheese available in all of the major supermarkets.

I smile whenever I see the Balderson name and think of the little hamlet outside of Perth. I remember our Sunday drives to the old cheese factory, and how they made the best curd in the world!

 

cheese curd 2kid eating cheese curd

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com

(story is an excerpt from  ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line’ ISBN: 978-0-9877026-16)

LC Kid

available in local book stores: The Book Nook & Other Treasures, and  ‘Bookworm’ in Perth, Mill Street Books in Almonte
Vintage Photos: ‘Perth Remembered’
Newsclippings: ‘The Perth Courier’

The Stafford House

Stafford House

When the book “Recipes and Recollections” was first published in 2011, most people could only dream of visiting its magical setting. As the book gained popularity beyond the local region, it’s likely that many readers had no idea where such places as Glen Tay or DeWitt’s Corners were located. They may have even wondered, “Is it a real place?”

Perched on a gentle hill, a short drive west of Perth, Ontario, the ‘Stafford House’ has become known as one of the area’s most celebrated fictional houses. It is one of the best examples of a building associated with a Canadian author, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, who used the farmhouse as both the inspiration, and the setting, for her popular books.

Built in 1906, the two-storey house, a warm and welcoming residence, was home to the Stafford family for almost 50 years.

Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, and his wife Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, met during WWI, at the Number 8 Bombing and Gunnery School, in Lethbridge, Alberta.  They married in 1943, shortly before Tib was shipped overseas, to serve in Bournemouth, England.  Their first child, Timothy, was born in Lethbridge in 1944, and their second, Judy, in 1945.

When the war ended, Tib brought his young family back to his native Eastern Ontario. Born and raised on the 11th concession of Drummond Township, he spent his youth on the homestead of his namesake, native of southern Ireland, and an early pioneer settler to the region.

With the help of a Veteran’s grant, Tib and Audry purchased the ‘Stafford House’, from Tib’s aunt and uncle, Thomas Carberry, and Clara (Richards) Carberry.

Stafford House in 1947

Stafford House – c. 1947

 

This traditional, rural home would become the backdrop for many well-loved books: “Lanark County Kid”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Calendar” and “Recipes and Recollections” “Lanark County Classics” “Lanark County Connections”, and “Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home.

Judy Tim Jackie Roger at the fence

Along the fence, at the west side of the property, 1958 – l to r – Judy Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford, and Roger Stafford

 

Jackie Ronnie Judy Arlene

l to rt. at the bottom – Arlene Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Ronnie Waterhouse (our cousin) Judy Stafford – this shows the location of the old barn. When the barn was torn down in 1961 it was replaced with the white wooden garage, built by Tib and his sons. Still standing today.

 

Staffords Jackie Tim Roger Judy Arlene

The Stafford children in 1962: l to r – Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, Judy Stafford, Arlene Stafford, front: Roger Stafford

The Stafford House, is valued both for its good aesthetic, and functional architecture. Its farmhouse design, places it firmly in Canadian vernacular building traditions of the earliest part of the 20th century. It is of an appealing, sturdy type, very common to many areas of eastern Canada. The interior of the house boasts a classic, traditional design, featuring good craftsmanship, and durable materials.

old back porch

Arlene Stafford, and Roger Stafford, washing his beloved dog, Mike
(the original back porch, accessed through the kitchen on the inside)

new back porch

Arlene Stafford with Jackie Stafford – Building materials can be seen on the lawn as the new back porch had just been completed.   Inside access was through the kitchen.  There were outside steps up to the landing. The clothesline, where Mother stood to hang clothing and bedding, attached to the new back porch, can also be seen in the photo.

new garage

 

Many aspects of the interior plan, finishes, and details, have been lovingly preserved, and its overall scale and materials, are enhanced by its setting in park-like grounds, surrounded by stately maple trees.

The author described the family home: “a big beautiful red brick house, smothered in tall maples in the front, and apple orchards at the back, was the magical home of my childhood”

Judy Jackie and Arlene apple orchards

1964 – Judy Stafford, Jackie Stafford, front – Arlene Stafford – to the rear Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, in front of the apple orchard- the orchard was located behind the house.

Judy in the apple orchard

Judy Stafford in the apple orchard

 

Arlene in the apple orchard

Arlene Stafford gathers apple blossoms, in the apple orchard behind the Stafford House – 1964

1967 Christmas

 

the old house

The Stafford House, as it appeared from 1946-1992, when the Stafford family lived there.

Many are charmed by the beauty of the surrounding countryside, and the large and romantic woodland which drifts gently down the hillside, towards the railroad tracks, and the beloved duck pond, mentioned many times in Stafford-Wilson’s books.

tracks back the side road

Nearby, visitors can take a short walk, or a drive down the side road, and see the little creek where the Stafford children caught tadpoles in the spring.

creek-behind-the-house0001

In the cooler weather, visitors may walk along the fields, where the young Staffords carefully chose their Christmas tree each year in December.

Stafford Christmas tree

A Stafford family Christmas tree – fresh-cut from the woods behind the house. Standing at the rear – Judy Stafford, centre, mother – Audry Stafford, l to r Jackie Stafford, Roger Stafford and Tim Stafford.

View the rolling farmlands, stunning landscapes, and nearby tiny villages of Glen Tay, and DeWitts Corners. Take a short drive up Cameron Side Road, and you will see the charming red brick Calvin Church where the Stafford family attended, another landmark which is mentioned many times in Stafford-Wilson’s books.

Calvin United Church brightened

In 2014, for the first time, the Stafford House was open to the public, as part of the Heritage Perth Christmas House Tour. Special exhibits included photos from the private collections of the Stafford family showing the exterior and interior of the house as it was, when they lived there from 1946 – 1992. Included in the displays were some of the author’s Mother’s original hand-written recipes preserved, previously published in ‘Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen”.

Organized by the Perth and District Canadian Federation of University Women, the Heritage Perth Christmas House Tour, featured 8 local homes including the Stafford House, transformed for the holiday season by gifted local decorators.

Christmas House Tour

As the Stafford House changed ownership over the years, first by the Brady family, then the Parker family, renovations have taken place, including the addition of a front porch, and many modifications to the interior, to modernize the home.

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com