Discovering Kawartha Dairy: Is a Local, Family-Owned Business Keepin’ it Real?

Have you ever endured a winter so long and dark and cold that you thought you’d just break? That’s me this year, and I finally put my foot down and told my significant other I needed a getaway. Perhaps somewhere close, reasonably priced, and flush with activities (both indoor and outdoor). We settled on a spot in Muskoka, the quintessential snobby cottage spot a few hours north of Toronto, Ontario. The plan was to snowshoe, ski, and hot tub. Oh, and eat. That always helps with the winter blues.

As we drove through the town of Huntsville on Friday night I saw a sign on a wooden building marking The Kawartha Dairy Company. A local dairy is not something you see often in Ontario. We have some weird rules here around milk production, and from what I understand, if you’re a farmer and you want to have your milk sold in regular grocery stores, you abide by a sort of exclusivity agreement with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO). If you are a member, your milk is pooled with the milk of 4,000 other producers, packaged under some large brand name, and sold. You’re not allowed to sell it to anyone else. If you’re not a member, your milk can only be sold on your farm or in independent stores. So a local dairy means an opportunity to try something different, something I hoped would be traditional and full of real, old-fashioned food.

Kawartha Dairy products

When we drove back the next day I poked my head in the door with my fingers crossed. Hard ice cream – check. Fluid milk – check. Cheese curds – check (and woohoo). I started flipping labels and seeing green lights: half-and-half with an ingredient list that reads “milk, cream” (no sodium diphosphate or carageenan like most commercial brands). Garlic cheese curds without a modified milk ingredient in sight.

Carton of Kawartha Dairy half-and-halfIngredient list in Kawartha Dairy half-and-half

As my husband was frantically loading up on Pine River cheese flavours like hot pepper mozzarella and maple cheddar, I paused and scrutinized a little further. Some of the ice cream varieties were neon pink. And the blowout-priced chocolate milk my husband insisted on purchasing was full of corn starch, food colour, and artificial flavour.

As for the cheese, every ingredient list ended with “may contain colour”. I trusted the white cheese curds had no colour added, but I second-guessed the spicy ones. Could they get their reddish tinge solely from hot peppers? How could I know?

I happen to think companies should know what’s in their products (so they can tell the rest of us) and I also think cheese shouldn’t be enhanced with food dye to make it look pretty. Cheese is delicious no matter what colour it is.

I was happy to find real cream and some cheese made from real milk. I’m also happy to support local dairies – I’d rather throw my support behind local dairies than be confined by the homogeneity of superstore offerings. But I am also disappointed that a company that seems to have strong values around family and real food would regurgitate industry lines on their website like this misleading answer to the question “Is chocolate milk healthy”?

Ingredients list on Kawartha Dairy chocolate milk

“Yes. Chocolate milk is as nutritious as white milk. Kawartha Dairy’s is made with 2% milk and contains about the same amount of sugar as you would find in most unsweetened fruit juices.”

Much as I dream about walking into a store and buying whatever I want without having to scrutinize labels, it’s just not possible yet.

In the meantime, I will continue to support companies that at least try to make real food available to the masses, even if it’s buried behind some mystery cocktail of sugary, chocolate-flavoured beverage.

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  1. Sadly Kawartha Dairy now puts carrageenan and dextrose in their half and half as well. We always bought Kawartha half and half because the ingredients were just cream and milk. I don’t know when they changed it, I just happened to look at the ingredients on the carton and saw the change. So hard to find real food these days!

  2. It’s hard for a smaller dairy to complete with the big companies ….maybe if people were more informed on how to store their food properly they could have kept the half and half real cream. I was told they had to switch back to adding things to the cream because customers were complaining that it didn’t last as long….


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