Home to Canada’s first cheese factory in 1840, Ingersoll remains a cheese-producing town, thanks in part to Amarjit Singh and his family, owners of Local Dairy. Housed in the historic Ingersoll Cheese Factory, Local Dairy produces cheese, cultured butter, and yogurt, specializing in authentic Indian dairy products, Mennonite cheese, and traditional Mexican and Latin American crema and queso.
A true entrepreneur, Singh has operated a tire company, donut shop, fast-food restaurant and juice business, but dairy is his passion. It all began 20 years ago when Singh was frustrated by the lack of good Indian paneer in Canada. He educated himself in the fine art of cheese-making and opened up shop in Kitchener, Ontario. “We were the first for packaged Indian paneer,” says Singh. In 1999 he moved his business to Ingersoll because, he says, “Oxford County is the largest producer of milk in Ontario. We get the freshest milk from one or two local farms five or ten minutes away.”
Milk quality is crucial in Singh’s business. “A cow is a very finicky animal. Lots of factors make a difference in the milk, even the weather. Of course the milk changes based on what the cow eats. If a cow is force fed protein for example, some of the other micronutrients are lost. A cow is most happy when outside grazing and eating at its own speed,” says Singh. He also notes that the milk must be antibiotic-free in order to make his cultured dairy products from it.
Walking into the office at Local Dairy is an experience unto itself. Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” By Einstein’s standards, Singh’s mind is certainly full. Among the stacks of typical office paperwork are piles of trade journals and educational brochures. One thing is clear: if Singh does something, he does it right and that means learning as much as he can.
Lately Singh has been researching micronutrients, those important vitamins and minerals like b-complex and zinc. He has taken some nutrition courses but also reads a lot of books on the subject. Singh plucks a letter from the middle of a stack on his desk; it’s from a woman asking where to buy Local Dairy’s Perth County All-Natural Yogurt, reading, “it saved my mother’s life.” The yogurt contains acidophilus and bifidus, two probiotics important for reducing lactose intolerance and providing protection from yeast and ‘bad’ bacteria such as E. coli. “We were also the first to make the acidophilus milk,” says Singh. “Acidophilus is one of the hardest cultures to keep.”
Cleanliness is paramount at Local Dairy. The equipment used to make the products is washed and sterilized after every use and again immediately before the next use. “We are very concerned with quality and consistence,” says Singh. This is why he and his wife Gurinder and their son Sajeev spend so much time in the factory. “I work hands on,” he says. “I know exactly what’s going to happen. Even when I’m not here they [employees] say I am still watching them.” Making cheese is all about time, temperature and handling, and at Local Dairy it is all performed manually. Small changes can make a big difference in the product. “That’s why I have to be here 16 hours a day,” Singh laughs.
Although his competitors are using preservatives to increase the shelf life of products, Singh refuses to follow suit. “We only use milk and vinegar for our paneer – all our products are natural and very clean,” he says. Local Dairy’s La Vaquita quesos are made with milk, culture, and enzyme or rennet. Concerned about consumer misinformation, Singh does not add colouring to his products. “There are 25 ingredients legally allowed for colouring cheese that are not required to be named on the label,” he says, “I like to keep things simple and pure.”
Local Dairy also makes a cultured butter under its Asli brand. Cultured butter, like regular butter, is made from cream but because it is cultured with active bacteria it has a longer shelf life and is rich in probiotics. Asli butter is smooth, sweet and creamy and has a slightly tangy taste similar to yogurt.
In a world of mass production where food choices are becoming increasingly complex and nutrition labels list mysterious multi-syllabic ingredients, it’s nice to know that regional artisans like Local Dairy are keeping things pure and simple.
Local Dairy’s artisanal products are distributed across Ontario and can be found in and around London at United Supermarket, Smith Cheese (Covent Garden Market), Angelo’s and Remark Fresh Markets.
139 Victoria Street, Ingersoll