Ontario

Small Town Canada Spotlight: The Mammoth Cheese of Perth, Ontario

Introducing Small Town Canada Spotlight, a mini-series where I highlight an interesting element about a small town. Some towns have already been featured on my website, while others are brand new. In this instalment, we’ll be taking a look at The Mammoth Cheese of Perth, Ontario.

The Mammoth Cheese was created for the World’s Columbian Exposition, or the Chicago World’s Fair, in 1893 to show Canada’s cheese-making prowess. The idea for the large cheese came from a Mr. Henderson, the owner of the Perth Cheese Company, who requested help from the Dominion Dairy Commission. While this wasn’t Ontario’s first Mammoth Cheese, it certainly was the biggest.

This enormous wheel of cheddar cheese weighed an outstanding 22,000 pounds, stood over six feet tall, and was an incredible feat of cheese making. Since this undertaking started before refrigerated trucks even existed, the cheese-making process relied upon the ingredients being kept extremely clean and at stable temperatures to make this creation come to life.

The Cheese-Making Process

To create the “Canadian Mite,” it took a dozen cheese-makers from Lanark County factories and the equivalent of a day’s worth of milk from 10,000 cows. The milk was transported by horse and wagon from various dairy farms. Each dairyman spent one day working on the solid block until it was ready to be wrapped up and placed on a freight train to get to the World’s Fair. Throughout the winter of 1892 and 1893, the dairy product was housed in a freight shed in Perth and visited by dignitaries eagerly awaiting its introduction onto the world stage.

The behemoth cheese was encased in a mould of steel boiler plate and first placed on a wooden railcar that it shockingly fell through. A special metal-reinforced railway flatcar was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to hold the large cheese, making it one of the first metal-reinforced railcars to exist.

On April 17, 1893, the Mammoth Cheese left Perth to a huge fanfare. According to John Archibald Ruddick, a staff member at the Dominion Dairy Commission who’d supervised the collection of curd from the factories and the transportation of the Mammoth Cheese to Chicago, many people came out to get a glimpse of the cheese. “There was a large turnout of Perth people, with a brass band to see the train depart,” Archibald said. “There were crowds at every station on the way to Windsor. It was said that there were 5,000 at North Toronto.”

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

Perth’s Mammoth Cheese arrived at the Chicago World’s Fair on April 25, 1893. The exhibit caught many people by surprise and became a huge hit only after the cheese crashed through the wooden floorboard of the building while being moved from the railcar to the space prepared for it. A second platform was created out of cement, still a relatively new material for Chicago at the time. Due to this commotion, the Mammoth Cheese turned out to be the most talked-about and written-about exhibit at the event.

Fair officials left the tasting of the Mammoth Cheese for last, thinking that such a large brick of cheddar couldn’t possibly taste good. When they tasted it, they were shocked by how good it was, giving it a Grade A and 95 points out of a possible 100. The cheese earned a diploma and a bronze medal for its participation at the exhibition.

After the event, the cheese was purchased by tea magnate Thomas Lipton for $4,000 and shipped overseas to London, England. Upon arrival, Lipton declared that he no longer wanted the large trophy as the flavour had been lost after being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. A cheese-loving caterer then repurchased the cheese and divided it during a lavish ceremony in the spring of 1894.

Eighty pounds of cheese was sent back to Ottawa, Ontario, where smaller samples were distributed and praised, bringing more attention to the cheese years after its first moment in the sun.

The Mammoth Cheese Today

In 1943, on the 50th anniversary of the Mammoth Cheese, a concrete replica of the creation was installed near the site of the old Perth Station. In October 1993, local cheese makers and other groups organized a week-long celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of the world’s largest cheese.

In 2009, another monument was constructed and is currently located in the Tay Basin beside the Crystal Palace. This new display is positioned on a replica of the cart, which held it at its original weigh station. A piece of the original cheese is still preserved at the Perth Museum, along with the bronze medal it won.

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