I recently paid a visit to Cows Creamery at its factory location on the outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI, where I was met by my two tour guides, Yvonne and Andrea. As I soon learned, Cows is a whole lot more than its renowned premium quality ice cream.
With humble beginnings back in 1983, Cows has evolved into a large diversified operation that produces, along with its iconic ice cream, three varieties of cheddar cheese as well as its newest dairy product, creamery butter. You’ll also find this company producing several food items such as chocolate-covered potato chips plus a line of novelty items (including its whimsical cow-inspired clothing line). For the purposes of this field trip, however, my focus was on the dairy side of Cows’ operations.
Cows Ice Cream
Cows began producing and selling one variety of ice cream (vanilla) on the Cavendish Boardwalk in 1983. It wasn’t long before customers soon started associating Cows with premium-quality ice cream. A short while later, Cows opened their first ice cream shop in downtown Charlottetown and you can still find it there on the corner of Queen and Grafton Streets, just across from the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Over the years, Cows added and operated, on a seasonal basis, several more outlets – Peakes Wharf in Charlottetown, Gateway Village at the foot of the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton, and on “The Confederation” ferry that runs, May-October, between PEI and NS. Of course, their new creamery near Charlottetown also sells ice cream year-round in the retain outlet. Cows has also added several off-Island locations that include Historic Properties in Halifax, NS; Whistler, BC; Banff, AB; and Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON.
Today, Cows produces some 32 flavours (yes, 32!) of high-end premium ice cream with catchy names like my favourite, “Wowie Cowie”. All the ice cream is made in their PEI creamery using milk produced on PEI dairy farms and as many locally-produced ingredients (e.g., berries) as possible.
The ice cream is then shipped to their various retail outlets in PEI and across the country.
On the day of my late afternoon March visit, the ice cream operation was not in production mode. However, their retail outlet was selling the delectable ice cream! Cows ice cream is served in their tasty signature waffle cones that are hand-made in each store. One bite and you know this is no ordinary ice cream cone. It is so good that it could almost be described as a specialized dessert crisp cookie in and of itself! The silky smooth ice cream holds its shape in the cone and does not melt too quickly like other brands made with less premium quality ingredients.
Single scoop (waffle cone included) is competitively priced at $3.75 + tax (at time of writing in March 2012) with other high-end ice creams.
The best way I can describe Cows ice cream is that it’s an experience unto itself, right down to the tip of the cone! For me, Cows ice cream is the benchmark against which all other ice creams get rated and I’ve found no other commercial brand to date that tops it. Just a word of caution, though, their ice cream is downright addictive!
Cows Creamery expanded its production line in 2006 when it started making cheddar cheese. Today, their cheese line includes three varieties: Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (the strongest and most robust of the three); Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar, and Cows Creamery Applewood Smoked 2 Year Old Cheddar.
Just as with their ice cream, Cows makes their cheese using milk that comes from small rural local dairy farms around PEI. Not only does this mean they are using fresh, quality ingredients but they are also supporting local dairy producers. The cheeses are made using the English method and, in fact, my tour guides told me their recipe has its roots in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. The cheeses are all-natural products made from unpasteurized milk with no color added. So, if your vision is of a bright orange cheese, you won’t find that at Cows. What you will find, though, is a natural-colored cheese with full-bodied authentic cheese flavour.
I must admit I have never been a fan of old cheese, preferring instead the much more subtle flavours offered by mild and, on occasion, medium cheeses. I was somewhat reluctant to try Cows cheese for the reason that other “old” cheese varieties I have tried in the past always tasted stale to me and had what I can only describe as a distasteful flavour. However, lesson learned – never be afraid to try new things and discover how accepting your palette might be to new and different tastes. Cows’ cheeses are indeed good. So good, in fact, the cheeses have already won several prestigious awards in Canada and the US. Manufactured at their Charlottetown Creamery, the 20-pound cheese wheels are shipped to distributors all over North America. Look, or ask for, Cows cheeses in local specialty cheese shops, farm markets, or grocery deli counters in your area. On PEI, Cows’ pre-packaged cheese can be found at local supermarkets, at the Farmers Market in Charlottetown and, of course, in the retail outlet of the Cows Creamery near Charlottetown, PEI.
I asked my tour guides what the primary intended uses of these cheeses would be since they only manufacture old cheese varieties – i.e., are they meant for snacking cheeses, cooking, etc. They suggested that the cheeses can simply be eaten on their own or used in salads, soups, casseroles, on burgers, or in grilled cheese sandwiches so these are very versatile products.
As per my usual practice when I visit a local producer, I like to take their product and use it in a recipe. I decided I’d put Cows cheeses to the real test and make “Mac ‘n Cheese” (recipe follows at end of this blog). The reason I chose Mac ‘n Cheese is because the pasta (a rather tasteless food item on its own) would not compete in taste with the cheese. This would allow the cheese to “star” without being masked by other strong flavours and I would find out if I liked Cows old cheddar. What I did was use 1 cup each of Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar. Well! Let’s just say, I can probably never be satisfied with Mac ‘n Cheese made with any other cheese in the future! The result was a rich, full-bodied cheese-flavoured Mac ‘n Cheese experience. As mentioned above, Cows cheeses are naturally colored which means they are a very pale neutral (yellowish) color so, if you are accustomed to seeing a rich orange-colored macaroni dish, this will not give you that. However, I think you’ll find the robust, true cheese flavour will more than make up for any lack of deep color.
In the summer of 2011, Cows introduced their newest product — butter sold in ½-pound packages and available unsalted or sea-salted. Just as with their ice cream and cheese products, their butter is of premium quality with 84% butter fat versus 80% found in regular butters. I have tried the sea-salted and it is one fine butter…particularly spread on fresh buttermilk biscuits straight out of the oven!
Cows Creamery Butter can be purchased on PEI at the Cows Creamery in Charlottetown as well as at the Co-op on Walker Avenue. Off-Island, it can be found at Pete’s Frootique in Halifax and Bedford, NS, as well as in various stores in Ontario and in the Vancouver, BC, area.
In 1985, Cows introduced a whimsical line of clothing for their staff to wear. They soon discovered that customers wanted to buy the staff clothing! As a result, Cows began selling T-shirts and sweatshirts that bore images based on puns related to cows or farming. This line has expanded to include a whole line of souvenir items and clothing.
Cows’ logo and images are very unique and recognizable. In fact, a few years ago, I was strolling down a very crowded street in Freeport, ME, when I came upon a couple sporting Cows T-shirts – you can identify these T-shirts in a crowd anywhere!
Visitors arriving on PEI by air can expect to find, as they step into the terminal at the Charlottetown Airport, a large statue of a black and white shiny cow advertising “Cows” products. Particularly during peak tourism season, it is not uncommon to find people posing for photographs with the cow as the backdrop. This is probably the most photographed cow on PEI (or anywhere, for that matter)!
Cows opened their new creamery facility just outside Charlottetown in 2009. They offer tours that start with a video in their theatre room, followed by a stop by the T-shirt printing shop where you can watch the Cows images being transferred on to clothing. Your next stop on the tour will take you by the infamous ice cream making room where you can watch this delectable treat being made. From there, you’ll see the large wheels of cheese undergoing the aging process. The last stop on the tour would, no doubt, be a huge hit – the tasting room where you’ll sample the ice cream made on the premises. Tour prices (as of March 2012) are: Adults $6.00; Children $4.00; and Children Under 2 years of age are admitted free. The tours run May 15 – October 15 and are available off-season by appointment only.
PEI has no shortage of good quality locally-produced food products available. The great thing about Cows Creamery products (apart from their obvious high quality) is that they are produced right here on Prince Edward Island. As a home kitchen chef and food blogger, I have a lot of time and respect for companies, such as Cows, that use local products in their manufacturing and, in turn, support local producers. As anyone who knows me well will attest, I like to use the freshest ingredients possible and premium-quality products in my cooking and baking. It doesn’t get any fresher than buying from local producers and manufacturers.
My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese
By March 21, 2012Published:
- Yield: 4-5 Servings
- Prep: 25 mins
- Cook: 30 mins
- Ready In: 55 mins
A rich, flavorful macaroni and cheese dish using Cows Creamery Cheese
- 3 quarts boiling water
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1 1/2 tsp liquid chicken bouillon
- 1/2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 2/3 cups elbow macaroni
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- pinch nutmeg
- pinch cayenne
- pinch dry mustard
- 1 cup grated Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar Cheese
- 1 cup grated Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar Cheese
- 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan Cheese
- In large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt, oil, liquid bouillon, garlic, and macaroni. I like to add some garlic and chicken bouillon to the water so it will flavor the pasta when it is cooking. This provides a subtle taste without overpowering or competing with the cheese which would be the case if the ingredients were added into the cheese sauce. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent macaroni from sticking to pot. Drain in colander. Return macaroni to pot.
- Melt butter in saucepan. Add milk. Combine flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and dry mustard. Whisk into milk and butter mixture. Cook over medium heat until mixture starts to thicken.
- Add cheeses and stir until melted and blended.
- Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir until well combined. Turn into a greased 2-quart casserole or divide into greased ramekin dishes for individual servings. Bake, uncovered, in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes.
- Serve with a fresh green salad and homemade biscuits.
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