Ellis Morris & the Story of Red Dragon Dairy
Ellis Morris is not afraid to make bold moves. He and his family of four moved from Wales to Canada in 2007. In his former home country, he had a herd of dairy cows and rented a farm. Friends (Irish immigrants) who had moved to Oxford County were able to share what they loved about the area with the Morris family. Ellis realized the region was a great spot to start something new, so he bought a farm and started raising and milking sheep and goats – a more affordable option than buying a milk quota for dairy cows in Canada. “It was a fantastic move for us,” he says now, 14 years later. “We’ve really enjoyed it.”
For more than a decade, Morris with help from his son, Sion, and wife, Hazel, operated Quality Sheep Milk. He sold milk to local cheesemakers. It was a successful enterprise, but hard work with long hours. It was time for another change two years ago when Ellis came to a fork in the road after experiencing health issues. At the time, his son wasn’t interested in taking over the farm and it was just too much to handle on his own, so he decided to scale-down and sell some of his land, but still stayed in the milk business.
His entry into cheese-making was purely by accident. He had a tanker of milk at a dairy in Toronto ready for delivery, but on that particular day, the dairy said they didn’t want it. Ellis didn’t want the milk to spoil so he called around until he could find another dairy who could turn it into cheese. “That’s how we started,” he says. “And it has mushroomed since then.”
In June 2021, it was time for more big changes. Ellis decided to make some of his cheese in-house. He bought the necessary equipment, opened up a retail outlet near the small town of Salford (less than a half an hour’s drive from Woodstock) and rebranded his company as Red Dragon Dairy, a nod to the fierce mythical creature that has been associated with Wales for at least 1,000 years. It is now part of the Welsh national flag and an important symbol of the enduring affection Ellis has for his former home.
A visit to Red Dragon Dairy, now being run by Sion, is a cheese lover’s fantasy come true with dozens of hard and soft varieties on offer, including its best-selling sheep’s milk cheeses, such as feta, gouda, manchego, and pecorino romano, plus ricotta, cream cheese and cheddar. The most recent additions are freshly made cheese curds (also made with sheep’s milk) in a variety of flavours – plain, herb and garlic, lemon pepper, jalapeno lime, and chilli flake. They have a delicious squeak that will have you reaching for another handful time after time.
And if you take a peek in the small window in the shop that peers into the cheese production area, you may catch glimpses of a cheesemaker at work, crafting unique cheeses that will soon be available to purchase. These small artisanal batches require care and patience to maximize their flavour for customers. Looking ahead, they’ll be new varieties added, like halloumi, a cheese with a high melting point so it can be grilled or fried while staying firm. A clothbound cheddar will follow, along with gift baskets for the holidays and charcuterie boards.
There are other unexpected delights at Red Dragon Dairy. Yogurt made from sheep milk has a subtle tang and smooth creaminess, ideal for a satisfying breakfast any day of the week. Customers will also find meat from Norpac Beef, a local producer, lamb meat, a selection of fresh in-season produce grown in the area, honey, maple syrup, house-made strawberry cheesecake (made by Ellis’s wife), rosemary gouda focaccia and a surprisingly diverse array of goods from Great Britain. You’ll find everything from soda pop (like Scotland’s famous Irn Bru), imported Cadbury chocolate, tea, biscuits, canned soups, curry sauces, and frozen specialties, like scampi.
Red Dragon’s retail outlet is much more than just a cheese shop. It is a celebration of local artisanal producers and other local cheesemakers who take the same pride in their products that it does. “Being a part of Oxford County’s Cheese Trail has been really good for us,” Ellis explains. “It has brought us visitors from across Ontario. It has helped people to get to know us and that’s a wonderful thing.”
As Ellis walks into his dairy each morning, he looks at the red dragon on the Welsh flag, alongside the Canadian one, and he feels right at home. “It gives me inspiration,” he says, “and I’m ready for another day.” And very likely more exciting bold moves head.