Ontario Cheese Society goes Canadian

Ontario Cheese Society, during the course of its annual conference and general meeting next Monday, will evolve into a pan-Canadian organization. In an interview with CheeseLover.ca, here’s how Gurth Pretty, chairman of the society’s board, and Andy Shay, a society board member and one of the conference organizers, explain what’s happening.

CheeseLover.ca: What has prompted the Ontario Cheese Society (OCS) to consider going national?

Gurth Pretty

Gurth: The notion has been mentioned by different board members over the last year. When Andy brought to the board’s attention that ongoing trade talks between Canadian officials and representatives from other countries could affect our industry, this was the signal that a national organization was needed to voice the concerns of Canadian cheesemakers.

CheeseLover.ca: What action will take place at the OCS annual general meeting next Monday?

Andy Shay

Andy: This is a very exciting time for the Ontario Cheese Society and months of planning are coming to a head at the AGM. Really, we will be asking the membership to ratify the ground work that we have put in place for the society to begin its national agenda. The proposal to go national has been drafted and sent to members and will be voted on at the conference. In addition, we will be asking the members to contribute to the renaming process. The board will sift through the proposals and will announce the new name in May. Coming up there are a few board member seats that will be available to be filled and we hope that we will be able to draw from a diverse national basis. We are also thinking about the AGM for 2011. In a national society, it would move around the country. Next year, the American Cheese Society will be meeting in Montreal, and that might create very interesting opportunities for the 2011 AGM.

CheeseLover.ca: Are there any other provincial organizations like the OCS? Do they support the idea of a national cheese society?

Gurth: La Société des fromages du Quebec is the only other provincial cheese organization in Canada. Several Quebec cheesemakers and distributors were invited to attend this year’s “Unity” conference. Several members are registered in both organizations. We will discuss with la Société’s executive officers, to hear their comments and suggestions.

CheeseLover.ca: Does OCS only represent the artisan cheese industry? What will the scope of the national organization be?

Gurth: The OCS represents all facets of the Ontario cheese industry, from the large industrial cheesemaker to the tiny artisanal-farmstead operation, where they produce cheese from their flock of 25 sheep. The mandate of the national organization is to be written and agreed to by the interim board. I personally hope that the organization will represent all cheesemakers making cheese with Canadian milk.

CheeseLover.ca: How many members does OCS currently have? Are there several categories? What success has OCS had over the six years since its founding?

Andy: Currently there are well over 100 members representing cheesemakers, milk producers, distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, educators, media and enthusiasts. One of the original goals was to increase communication among all aspects of the industry and that has been accomplished in several ways. First, the AGM has turned out to be a really important annual event for connecting and reconnecting with the cheese network as well as being a chance to regenerate with new ideas. Second, the AGM marketplace and other consumer shows that the society hosts during the year has increased the public profile and access to the cheeses and the cheesemakers that have not always been easy to find. Third, the communication between the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and cheesemakers and between the cheesemakers has been opened and there is now a regular back and forth between those parties, about policy, but also about daily operation. We have also increased communication for all members through the monthly publishing of The Slice e-mail, a sort of bulletin board of all things cheese. One other initiative coming up will be the membership card which will entitle the holder to a 10-percent discount at participating retailers.

The Ontario Cheese Society’s sixth annual conference, AGM and marketplace takes place Monday, April 26, at Hart House on the University of Toronto campus in downtown Toronto.

The public is invited to the Canadian Artisan Cheese Marketplace & Prince Edward County Wine Tasting that will take place Monday evening. Click here for more information.