Take a tour of P.E.I.'s largest cheese factory

Take a tour of P.E.I.'s largest cheese factory. ADL in Summerside produces 8 million kilograms a year, all under the watchful eye of head cheese-maker Darcy Carr.

More than 300K of Island milk moves through ADL's Summerside facility daily

A worker at ADL cuts open a 40 kg block of mild cheddar. Machines will cut it into the smaller blocks you see on store shelves. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Darcy Carr has seen a lot of cheese over the past 39 years working with Amalgamated Dairies Limited in Summerside — in fact millions and millions of kilograms.

Carr is responsible for ensuring quality and cleanliness at the plant from the moment the milk trucks arrive to the moment the packaged cheese is shipped.

Darcy Carr has worked at ADL in Summerside for almost 40 years. And he says he's not ready to retire just yet. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Before our tour even begins, Carr tells me to suit up with plastic gloves, a white lab coat and hair net.

ADL operates 24 hours a day and produces 8 million kilograms of cheese every year. 

It's is one of the last dairy co-operatives in the country. The Island farmers who supply the milk also own the plant. 

Take a tour of P.E.I.'s largest cheese factory 0:55

Every morning, close to a dozen stainless steel trucks haul in more than 300,000 litres from dairy farms across P.E.I., but you never see a drop of it in the plant. It's pumped directly into holding tanks, and then pasteurized.

It's then pumped into huge vats, where the whey is stirred off. This is one area I can't enter.

A worker cuts huge blocks of cheddar into smaller blocks that will be even cut smaller. (Pat martel/CBC)

"We don't want any contamination," said Carr. "We've got to be very careful because the cheese is being made there."

The product is checked at every step along the process. ADL drivers collect milk samples from every farm they visit. 

"All the cheese that's made, right from the times it's made in the vat, there's samples go up to our lab," said Carr.

"They check it for microbes to make sure everything is good and clean."

ADL processes more than 110 million litres of milk annually. The co-operative is owned by P.E.I. dairy farmers. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Lots of varieties

ADL makes a variety of cheeses — cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack and Parmesan.

Workers in ADL's laboratory test every product along every step of the process to ensure quality. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The cheese is then transferred to towers to form huge blocks of cheese.

Aging takes time

Then it's off to the coolers to be aged, where the cheese will sit for months — or even years.

"If it's mild cheese, it's about three months," said Carr.

"Medium cheese is around five months, and then you've got old cheese, 12 months."

"And then we have two-year-old and three-year-old that stays in the cooler"

The cheese slicer cuts through the cheddar cheese like butter. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Carr prefers those that have sat around for a while.

"Old aged cheese. I like the flavour. It's stronger," he said.

"It just gets stronger as you let it age so after two or three years it's pretty strong."

Travelling cheese

The cheese is shipped around Canada and around the world.

The cheddars are the biggest sellers, for good reason. They taken home some significant hardware from international cheese competitions, such as the British Empire Cheese Show.

"We've won cheddar, we've won old cheddar, we've won extra-old cheddar, we've won some marble-medium and mild," said Carr.

"We've won in pretty well everything we make, at one time or another."

Besides picking up 30,000 litres of milk from farms in western P.E.I. ADL Driver Trevor Harris also has to collect samples of milk from each farm for testing. (Pat Martel/CBC)

After 39 years of making cheese, you might think Carr has had enough, but he's going to see even more as ADL expands this year.

The 12 million dollar expansion will be used to increase cheese curing and storage, as well as to modernize production.

So how much longer does Carr plan to cut the cheese?

"I don't know. Until I'm finished."

Before anyone enters the cheese cutting room, they must stand in sanitizer foam. (Pat Martel/CBC)

About the Author

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning where he was a writer-broadcaster and producer. He joined the web team recently to share his passion for great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He retired in Oct. 2019.