If you’ve had the pleasure of spreading organic, grass-fed butter on toast in Canada, it’s almost guaranteed to have come from the Alliston Creamery.
Emerald Grasslands, churned in Alliston, is a deeper yellow than conventional butters, thanks partly to the Jersey cow milk, and also to the grass diet the cows dine on. The flavour is richer in a way that makes conventional butter seem thin by comparison. Though, David Kennedy, owner of the creamery, said not everyone is a fan.
“If you’ve spent your whole life buying no name butter, then you get a butter with a lot of flavour, you might not like it,” Kennedy said.
The family-owned creamery is the last independent creamery in the province, if not the country.
Built in 1909, the creamery has been in the Kennedy family for just shy of half its life.
Back when Kennedy’s father started churning butter, they creamery would do three or four churnings a day, five on a notably busy day. Now, the teams churns out that much before most people start their work day. They also produce a lot more variety, 58 different products get made at the creamery, from conventional butter to grass-fed, organic, and organic grass-fed, to goat and water buffalo butter. In a few weeks, the creamery will start processing ghee, a clarified butter that’s a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine.
If these seem like niche products, it’s because they are.
“I’m doing the part of the market which the [big producers] don’t want to do,” Kennedy said. “They do the masses, which I don’t want to do.”
Right now, Kennedy said, the market for organic butter is only about two per cent of the market share, too small for large scale producers to consider.
To make butter, cream is shipped in by producers, processed, and shipped out.
“Everything gets pasteurized,” Kennedy said. “If you pasteurize one day, you churn the next.”
The high heat of pasteurization disturbs the fat at a molecular level, and it takes about eight hours to reconstitute.
After a night in the creamery tanks, the cream is moved 1,500 litres at a time into a barrel churn, where it churns for about an hour and a half. From there it’s packaged in foil wrapping or bulk boxes.
“We probably average about 15,000 pounds, five days a week,” Kennedy said. For scale, Kennedy said a large-scale operation does more butter hourly than the Alliston plant does all day.
While the Alliston Creamery is increasingly busy, adding another independent creamery would be risky.
“The problem with starting another creamery is the cost of startup,” Kennedy said. Kennedy estimated the cost to be between $5 and $10 million. “That’s a big investment for the volume we’re running.”
But keeping the independent creamery active gives consumers choice.
“When organic and grass-fed grow to 10 or 15 per cent of the industry, the big guys will go after it,” Kennedy said, but inevitably a new niche product will emerge.
When organic and grass-fed grow to 10 or 15 per cent of the industry, the big guys will go after it.DAvid kennedy
Much of the butter produced at the creamery goes back to the producer to be distributed independent of the creamery, but the Allison Creamery produces the Golden Dawn brand. Golden Dawn butter is available at the creamery and at Foodland stores across Simcoe County.