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Cheese, Please

By Rachel Dutil • Photos Supplied

One of the oldest cheese-plants in continuous operation in the U.S. is located in the small North Country town of Chateaugay, New York. McCadam Cheese Company was established in 1876 by William McCadam in the rural St. Lawrence County village of Heuvelton. McCadam purchased much of its milk from Sheffield Farms, a milk plant in Chateaugay, that provided a market for local farmers. In 1949 the Chateaugay Marketing Association, which became the Chateaugay Co-op, purchased the Sheffield plant and McCadam relocated its cheese production facility to Franklin County.

Over the decades the partnership proved to be a success. By the 1970s more space was needed and the Co-op and McCadam contracted to build a new cheese and whey processing plant. The facility was financed by the Co-op and McCadam agreed to pay back the costs in rent over a 17-year lease.

In the early 1990s, the plant was sold to Valio Limited, a Finish company. It was a time when European-style cheeses such as Lappi, Gouda, Edam, and Havarti were very popular in the U.S.. Valio invested in upgrades to the plant, but after a few years sold the business back to McCadam. In 2003, Agri-Mark purchased the McCadam Cheese Company.

Agri-Mark, the largest co-op in the Northeast, is made up of more than 500 dairy farm families in New England and New York State. The co-op purchases milk from member farms which is then processed into cheese, yogurt, butter, and other dairy ingredients. The company has two cheese plants in addition to the McCadam plant -- one in Middlebury, VT, the other in Cabot, VT. Agri-Mark owns the iconic McCadam and Cabot retail brands, as well as Agri-Mark Whey and Dairy Proteins brands.

Amber Sheridan is the Director of Corporate Communications for Agri-Mark. “As a farmer-owned cooperative, Agri-Mark is led by a board of directors comprised of farmers elected by their peers,” she explained. “Nearly one-third of Agri-Mark’s members reside in New York’s North Country region and the Chateaugay plant is uniquely positioned to support those farm families.”

Sheridan grew up in Chateaugay on a dairy farm that supplied milk to McCadam. “Generations of North Country farm families have relied on this plant to provide a stable home and a profitable market for their milk,” she explained. “I have heard stories from my relatives and community members about delivering milk in cans to the plant by horse and wagon.”

Tony Ignaczak is the production manager and master cheesemaker at the Chateaugay plant. He sets the recipes for the cheeses and his team “brings the delicious cheeses to life,” he said. Ignaczak learned the cheesemaking trade under the tutelage of Lionel Davis Jr. and Ron Davis, nephews of Stanley McCadam who served as president of McCadam Cheese for more than 30 years. “They taught me so much about cheesemaking,” he recalled.

Ignaczak fell in love with agriculture as a teenager when he began working on his uncle’s beef and vegetable farm. “After being hired in 1982 at McCadam, it wasn’t long before I realized making cheese for people was very satisfying,” he offered, adding that he enjoys working with his neighbors – both co-workers at the plant and farmer members who produce the milk used to create 20 different McCadam cheeses -- Cheddar, Muenster, Pepper Jack, Gouda, Colby, Colby Jack, Smoky Bacon Cheddar, Garlic and Herb Cheddar, Monterey Jack and more. A retail store on-site sells the cheeses and they are distributed to stores across the Northeast. The plant employs 106 people; another four work in the retail store.

“What is unique at Chateaugay, is their cheesemaking legacy that started more than 100 years ago and is still thriving today,” Sheridan said. “We have a great team there that embraces its role in continuing that cheesemaking heritage and our farmers are dedicated to supplying the high-quality milk. The result is our award-winning cheeses.” McCadam has been winning awards for its cheeses since first being recognized with a medal at the Chicago Exposition in 1894.

The cheesemaking process starts with fresh milk trucked in daily from the member farms. The plant processes the milk and creates the cheeses.” Once our products are tested and released by our quality assurance team, they are packaged in either 42-pound or 700-pound blocks that are shipped to the cut and wrap facility in Cabot, Vermont where they are packaged for sale in retail stores,” Ignaczak explained.

“The Chateaugay plant has been an economic engine in the region, supporting the farmers, our employees and the community,” Sheridan said. “Over the last few years, Agri-Mark has made significant investments in the plant to ensure that it is a sustainable facility that can process the milk our farmers produce, and that we can provide our employees a safe modern workplace.”

A recent $30 million project at the Chateaugay plant marked the completion of a 9,600 square foot expansion, created a state-of-the-art cheese production room, cheese towers, rebuilt its 110,000 square foot manufacturing center, a dry warehouse space, and installed new equipment for an automated packaging line. This major modernization is projected to increase production capability by 24 percent. “For a long-time employee like me, our recent expansion is like having a dream for years and then having it come to life,” Ignaczak said. The plant utilizes 1.3 million pounds of milk per day, but will increase by 13% when at full capacity with the expanded facility.

“It’s hard to say what my favorite cheese is,” Ignaczak admitted. “I love our Adirondack cheddar, Colby jack and Gouda. I love everything made with cheese from grilled cheese sandwiches to homemade mac and cheese to fancy charcuterie boards,” he concluded.

Only a handful of yesterday’s cheese producers have stood the test of time. The McCadam Cheese Company is one of them.

McCadam Cheese

36 McCadam Lane

Chateaugay, NY 12920

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