Ontario backs goat dairy, sheep’s-milk cheesemaker

A southwestern Ontario sheep’s-milk cheesemaker and an eastern Ontario goats’-milk processor have each picked up seven figures in provincial economic development funding for major expansions.

The province on Monday announced $1.3 million for Shepherd Gourmet Dairy through its rural economic development program, after pledging $1 million from the Eastern Ontario Development Fund the previous Friday for Skotidakis Goat Farm.

Shepherd, billed as North America’s biggest producer of cheeses and yogurt from sheep’s milk, is tripling the size of its new production facility at St. Mary’s, about 35 km north of London.

The province’s funding will go toward new equipment allowing Shepherd to “enhance” its products and packaging.

The company said the expansion of its CFIA-registered St. Mary’s plant, built after a fire destroyed its plant at nearby Tavistock in 2008, will allow it to create over 40 new jobs and source sheep milk from 75 Ontario farms.

With the funding, “we will increase our production and develop new premium products for customers at home and abroad,” company president Stewart Cardiff said in a provincial release. “This expansion helps Shepherd Gourmet Dairy remain at the top of the market, so that farmers and businesses throughout Perth County can remain strong.”

The company’s products currently include sheep’s-milk feta, ricotta and yogurt, as well as a goat’s-milk feta and a feta made from cows’ milk plus sheep or goat milk, all marketed across Canada under the Shepherd Gourmet and Krinos brands.

The 2008 fire had left Shepherd “homeless” for nine months, during which time the company produced its cheeses at night at other plants.

“Expanding production at Shepherd Dairy will help support an entire region of farmers while creating jobs and encouraging people to buy local,” Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson said in the release.

“Control”

Meanwhile, Skotidakis’ expansion at St. Eugene, about 65 km west of Montreal, is expected to allow it to essentially “double its operations” and create 10 new jobs.

The goat’s-milk processor, which sells feta, ricotta, pressed yogurt and tzatziki spreads across Canada and in parts of the U.S., said Friday it will expand its processing capacity to 30 million litres of milk per year, up from 20 million.

That expansion, the province said, “will help Skotidakis to better serve its wholesale markets in both Ontario and California.” Also, the province said, the expansion will allow Skotidakis to add four new product lines and gain “greater control over deliveries.”

The company has operated at St. Eugene since 1975, initially based around the production from founder Peter Skotidakis’ herd of over 3,000 goats. Apart from its retail items, the company also sells its wares in the foodservice sector, where its product lines also include sour cream, cream cheese and parmesan.

“This is a great time for our company to expand and diversify, create new positions and increase demand from local dairy farmers,” company president John Skotidakis said in the province’s release.

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