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’

Silver Lake Sundays

picnic table

It always seemed as though Highway 7 was busy, cars and trucks rushing along, especially on the weekends, and even more so during the summer months. According to Dad, it wasn’t just the local people travelling between Perth and Sharbot Lake, but all the tourists that rambled along the Trans-Canada Highway, doing a little sight-seeing, and exploring the countryside. Whatever the reason, Highway 7 was busy as usual that Sunday afternoon so long ago, as we made our way to Silver Lake.

Although it was just a twenty minute drive from the old house, the ride seemed to take forever, our legs sticking to the hot vinyl seats in the back of the Buick, long before the days of air conditioning. It wasn’t until I saw the signs for the village of Maberly that I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we’d be there in just a few more minutes. Dad flicked on his signal, I felt the car slow down, and we turned, and drove up the hill to the entry booth at Silver Lake Provincial Park. The park worker came over to the window, Dad showed his seasons pass, and he waved us through.

silver lake sign

Dad found a spot close to the picnic area, and we drove in and parked the car. That was the easy part. The tricky part was finding just the right picnic table. Dad liked a table to be in the shade. Mother preferred a place with a little sun. Dad said he needed to be out of the wind so he could light his little green Coleman stove. Mother liked a breeze to keep the bugs away. So the hunt for the best table usually took a little longer, sometimes a lot longer, than it should have. After all, we just wanted to cool off in the water, and that beautiful lake stretching out ahead of us, sparkling in the sun, was all we could think about. Who cared where we ate supper?

The hunt for the perfect table continued. Should we use one of the tables under the shelter in case it rained, or maybe one of the ones farther up the hill, off by itself? There was a good table close to the main beach, but there were a bunch of rowdy people sitting at the table right next to it, and Mother wondered aloud if that’s why no one else was using it.

They finally spotted a table halfway up the hill, toward the lower beach, and sent one of us up the ridge to ‘save’ it. Dad opened the trunk, and we each grabbed something, and made our way up to the table. The table cloth, Coleman stove, cooler, plastic cups and plates, paper napkins, transistor radio, saucepans, and cooking utensils, were all brought to the site. We hauled the picnic gear up the slope, and set it all down on the seats, while Mother spread out the red plastic table cloth. It wasn’t until we placed the big cooler on the table that we noticed that the table rocked back and forth. Good grief! I hoped to myself that we wouldn’t have to pick another table! Dad got the boys to lift one end, while he lifted the other, and re-positioned it until it was stable. What a relief!

While Mother took everything out of the cooler, Dad turned on his portable radio, extended the antenna, and went about setting up his little green metal stove.

transistor radio

 

I grabbed a towel from the top of the cooler, and headed down to the beach, finally free to jump in the lake and get cooled off. As I got closer to the beach, the noise and laughter from all of the kids grew louder, and I could see people jumping off of rubber rafts, and throwing beach balls around, and some little kids were filling up sand pails, and making sand castles along the shore.

I stepped cautiously into the shallow water along the sandy shore and it felt cool. Because I was right in the center of the main beach, I got splashed again and again by the other kids running in and out and jumping nearby. I walked out slowly, up to my knees, and then finally plunged in all the way, and the water didn’t seem cool anymore; it was just perfect. There was a kid close by with a diving mask on, and another kid with a fancy inflatable raft, and he was gliding along the surface using his hands to propel himself. I wondered what it would be like to have these expensive gadgets to play with in the water. We had an old beach ball that kept shrinking because it leaked air, and that was about it. Oh well, it was fun to splash around and cool off just the same.

I put my face in the water and opened my eyes. The bottom was sandy, with some smooth pebbles, and a couple of snail shells. There were some tiny minnows darting around, and lots of arms and legs of kids playing nearby. I pulled my face back out of the water, took a deep breath, and propelled myself down to the bottom, pushing the water back with my arms, moving farther from the beach. When I felt myself running out of air I resurfaced, rubbed my eyes, and looked back at the beach. There were lots of parents relaxing in lawn chairs, watching their kids swim. Little kids were playing close to the shore, and bigger kids were splashing around, squealing, laughing, and the bright July sun gleamed and glistened on the surface of the water.

I played in the water for hours, bobbing at the surface, swimming along the bottom, jumping into the gentle waves, and floating on my back and kicking my feet, then gliding backwards, staring up at the bright sun and the blue sky. I watched as new kids came into the water, and other kids left the beach, heading over to the playground, past the parking lot. By the time Mother came down to the beach to call me for supper I’d had plenty of time to swim, my fingertips were wrinkly, and I was ready to come out of the water.

silver lake swimmers

As we walked up the path to the picnic table I began to smell the gas from the Coleman stove, and the savoury scent of the hot dogs, and I began to realize how hungry I was. The fresh corn was already boiled and stacked on a tray. There was a bowl of baked beans, a homemade potato salad, some deviled eggs, homemade rolls, pickles, and a jellied salad. Everything tasted good, partly because I was hungry from swimming, but mostly because we were outside. Things always seemed to taste better outdoors in the fresh air for some reason. Dessert was Mother’s lemon squares. There was also a cookie tin of brownies, and some butter tarts. No one went hungry at our picnics; that was for sure.

Coleman stove  deviled eggs  corn butter tarts

After we’d finished and cleaned up, we decided to walk across the road to Barbary’s store. The traffic was very busy on Highway 7, so we had to wait quite a while until both lanes were clear, and then walked quickly across. The store was huge, and they had everything – groceries, camping gear, water toys, even life jackets; anything that you might need if you were camping, or visiting the lake. They had lots of souvenirs, postcards, and knick-knacks for tourists. Dad asked me if I’d like a chocolate bar, but I’d spotted something even better. The store carried Partridge Family bubblegum cards, and I was collecting them, so I asked if I could have those instead. Dad agreed and bought me those, and bought chocolate bars for everyone else, and he also picked up a fly swatter that he’d spotted hanging up by the cash register.

Parkside Service Centre May 15 1975

 

Parkside Service June 5 1975

We left the store, and once again waited a while until the road was clear, and walked quickly across. We strolled up the hill to the park entrance, through the gates, past the washrooms and change rooms, down the hill through the parking lot, and back up to the picnic table. We each picked up something, and headed down the hill to the car, and packed everything back into the trunk.

Once the car was packed, we went for a walk along the smaller, quieter beach on the other side of the picnic area. It was more peaceful at that beach, and there were only one or two kids with their parents down near the water. As we walked along I picked up some smooth stones, and a couple of snail shells, to bring back home. The early evening sun was lower in the sky, but still bright, and it bounced and played off of the water, and shimmered through the trees along the shore. The air was fresh and clean, and carried with it the soft scents of the lake and the nearby trees.

walk silver lake

Many Sunday afternoons were spent at Silver Lake. There were no splash pads, or giant water slides. We swam without water wings. Our only concern was how fast we could get into the lake to swim, and not how we looked in our bathing suits. The old car had no air conditioning, and our entertainment at supper consisted of a small transistor radio. If we wanted to call a friend we had to wait ‘til we got home and hope that none of the neighbours was using the party line. We filled our dinner plates time and again, stuffed ourselves with desserts, and never counted a single calorie. We didn’t send text messages; instead we talked to each other, and shared a few laughs.

family picnic

Although there have been many useful advances in technology since those days, I will always treasure our simple summer picnics. I yearn for the clear water, the beach-scented air, and quiet walks along the sandy shores. I miss the shrieks of genuine laughter, and carefree splashing in the warm waves. I dream of the distinctive smell of the Coleman stove, and the unmistakable flavours of the homemade comfort foods. Most of all, I long for the effortless, unguarded conversations that we shared between bites. Surely in today’s hectic, stressful world, constantly connected to the internet, we could all find some welcome relief in the peace, tranquility and simplicity of an old fashioned picnic at the lake.

 

 

 

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com