Our mission is both simple and complex. Our goal is not only to give a taste of who we are; we also want each and every one of our cheeses to have their own identity. However, our primary mission remains transforming all the milk produced on the Island.
Our concerns have remained the same since the opening of the cheese factory: preserve our agricultural heritage and contribute to the sustainable development of our environment.
The cheese factory now employs several islanders. However, more and more people from mainland are starting to see the advantages of living with their family on this charming island.
Actually, the population has been getting younger for some years. This is not only due to the success of our cooperative, but also because of the general organization based on agriculture and tourism; a winning combination for Isle-aux-Grues.
Our cheese factory is closely linked to the agricultural production, the main economic activity of the Island. Today, five dairy farmers are part of the cooperative in order to preserve our agricultural heritage and our land. All the milk produced on the island is used by our cheese factory.
Early in the colonization
Agriculture has always been an important economic activity on Isle-aux-Grues and Île-aux-Oies, both located in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Back to the beginning of the 18th century, the two islands provided eggs, butter and cattle to the Hospitalières of the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec.
For a long time, potatoes were the only exportable product on the island. However, the low price received for them led farmers to start dairy farms. As Île-aux-Grues is only connected to the mainland by ferry during the summer and by a small airplane during the winter, it was not possible to ship the milk out of the island everyday.
A story of solidarity
The Agricultural Cooperative of Isle-aux-Grues was founded in 1976 when 14 dairy producers came together in order to turn their milk into cheese on the Island.
In 1977, the Cooperative began producing cheese. At this time, the cheese factory operated only during summer. In 1987, the dairy producers convinced the municipality to clear snow from the road, so that the factory could run all year long. Consequently, milk production quadrupled and the plant had many expansions in order to deal with the increase in production.
In 1995, major investments were made to upgrade the facilities and comply with Agriculture Canada’s standards. Over $1 million were invested between 1995 and 2000. These investments were made possible by the CIP and a local fundraising activity.
Meanwhile, many farms were sold or abandoned, because no one would take them over. Only five dairy farms remained in the cooperative.
The tide turned in 2004. A young couple came to settle on the Island and realized a dream: owning a dairy farm. All the milk produced by their Brown Swiss cows will be used to make a new cheese. They first had to find a few cows to run some tests which soon revealed a very special cheese. They then concluded a transaction with Ontarian farmers and brought back a herd of about thirty animals on the Island.
As soon as they arrived on the island, the menu of the Brown Swiss cows was changed. They started eating only one thing: marsh hay. The cows appreciate this lower protein food and it undoubtedly brings a unique taste to the cheese Tomme de Grosse-Île.
A vibrant local economy
With sales of over $3 million and its 15 employees, the economic benefits of the cheese factory are very significant for the island.
In order to maximize the return of its investments, the cheese factory undertook a major change in its mission by creating a line of artisanal soft cheeses. Within a year and a half, the Cooperative developed several soft cheeses and managed to take a special place among Quebec fine cheeses’ market.
Marketing these products is the cheese factory’s main challenge. The cooperative’s future prosperity lies in diversifying its production. That is why we started to age cheddars to increase retail sales and to develop and market value-added fine cheeses.
We now distribute our cheeses throughout the province of Quebec, as well as Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. With our constant efforts to meet the highest standards of the industry, we are now planning to open our market to other provinces and even other countries.
In 2003, we reinvested again in our facilities so that we could increase our production of fine cheeses.
In July 2009, the factory was recognized as a HACCP establishment (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Today, after more than 32 years in business, we are still improving and extending our factory. Another proof of the huge success of our business!
The Riopelle Vachon Foundation was created in 2001. Jean-Paul always enjoyed spending time on the ground of Isle-aux-Oyes and at the Manor House McPherson. He was therefore delighted to see that the Foundation would play an important role in the future of the island.
Indeed, by giving the income of his copyright for the reproduction of his work on the label of the cheese "Riopelle de l' Isle", all the students of the Island have access to a scholarship.
Moreover, by acquiring the Pointe aux Pins, the Foundation has ensured the protection of this fantastic place. Consequently, this unique place and its wildlife will forever be kept.
Jean-Paul thus remains alive through the Foundation and keeps supporting the islanders in the development of the beautiful Isle-aux-Grues.
I am particularly proud to participate in this project and to honour the memory of Jean-Paul. There is no better way to remember Jean-Paul than creating a better future for the island by protecting its lands.
Chairwoman of the Board
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