Ontario cheese factory fire could lead to a poutine crisis

St. Albert Cheese Co-Operative
St. Albert Cheese Co-Operative

Trouble abounds for poutine lovers and dairy enthusiasts after a fire in a small Ontario town decimated the region’s celebrated cheese factory.

The 118-year-old St. Albert Co-Operative was destroyed by a massive fire over the weekend. The Globe and Mail reports that $3.5-million worth of dairy products was also lost in the blaze, including a supply of the fromagerie’s prized cheese curds.

Consider it the most Canadian catastrophe since the great Maple Syrup Heist of 2012.

The century-old cheese factory is a key industry for the small community of St. Albert, Ont. It is one of the oldest francophone co-operative farms in the province and produces cheese curds coveted by restaurants across central Canada.

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The Wall Street Journal reported on the blaze, learning that at least one Ottawa restaurateur has stockpiled St. Albert cheese curds out of a fear there would be a shortage.

Rejean Ouimet, the general manager for St. Albert Co-Operative, told reporter Paul Viera he would decide how and when to restart production by the end of the week.

That is good news, indeed. The demise of the cheese factory would be a death knell to the 500-strong community of St. Albert; some local families can trace their employment at the factory back five generations.

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Still, residents are faced with public health concerns coming out of the blaze. CBC News reports that St. Albert residents have been told not to drink well water because the plant used chemicals such as ammonia.

"It's devastating," Nation Township mayor Francois St-Amour told reporters. "It's a big impact but they're very hearty people. They'll get back on their feet."

Canada’s poutine aficionados wishes St. Albert a speedy recovery.