Production has resumed at Bothwell Cheese in New Bothwell. 

The plant was shut down following a serious fire on the morning of June 1. Robin Redstone is Senior Communications Manager at Gay Lea Foods. She explains that the official cause of the fire remains under investigation. However, they know that the fire started in what is referred to as a UFRO room, which is the part of the plant that is responsible for filtering out the whey; a by-product of the cheese-making process. 

"That portion of the plant was completely shut down," she says. "The rest of the plant got off relatively easy."

Redstone says though there was significant cleanup to be done, thankfully there were no injuries, and she credits the Hanover Fire Department with its quick response in keeping the fire confined to that portion of the plant. 

According to Redstone, the fire broke out at the end of a planned maintenance shutdown week. She notes the filtration room was not undergoing any sort of maintenance at the time and there is no suspicion that the fire is linked to the maintenance work. 

"I know there were employees close to the filtration room at the time," she adds. "We suspect it started in an electrical box of some sort, but still waiting for the official cause."

a cooler is stocked with packages of cheese.The shelves are full once again at the Bothwell Cheese Factory Cheese Shop. (Gay Lea Foods)

Redstone says though a damage estimate is not yet available, damage to the filtration room is extreme and it will be several weeks before repairs will be completed. 

Redstone says it is incredible to hear about the efforts that have been made to get Bothwell Cheese up and running as quickly as possible. She notes the cleanup and repairs began almost immediately, following the fire. Redstone says Bothwell employees came in to help with cleanup on their days off and the weekend.

"Everybody was really eager to get things back up and running again," she adds. 

Redstone explains that to bring the plant back up to top food safety standards, a very thorough cleaning was needed. After careful cleaning and inspection, packaging was successfully brought back online on June 10. The Bothwell Factory Cheese Shop reopened June 12, with limited inventory.

Testing for a return to production began on Monday of this week and the plant began operating at close to full capacity three days later. 

The full re-opening depended in part on local farmers, who have stepped up to provide an alternate solution for whey disposal.

Redstone says the plan, developed in concert with the province's environmental regulators, allows Bothwell Cheese to discard the natural byproduct into a small number of farms' lagoons, where it can be used as on-farm fertilizer. The temporary solution allows the plant to resume production.

a silver machine with white cheese curds dropping below itProducing fresh curds this week. (Gay Lea Foods

"It really is a story of community coming up and helping to find the solution to get Bothwell back into production," she adds. 

Redstone says Bothwell Cheese is now back to producing its complete line of cheeses and serving its customers across Canada. They are working on getting their store and customers all restocked. She notes this will likely continue throughout the summer. 

"The UFRO room sustained near complete damage," she says. "So, it will be several weeks until we're able to have all the equipment replaced and things back up and running in there."

Redstone says all of their employees are now back at work and Gay Lea Foods made sure that nobody missed a pay cheque during the shutdown. 

"I find it to be just a very heartwarming story as people coming together and showing their support and their understanding and their love for Bothwell Cheese," she says. "We're very grateful to the employees, to the fire department, to the farmers, the community, really glad to get things back up and running again."