Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Visiting the Tillamook Cheese Factory - 2022/07/15

Today we get to go on another fun factory tour! Last year we were on the East Coast and got to try out all the different cheeses from the major cheese producer Cabot. This year we're on the West Coast at the other major cheese manufacturer Tillamook! 

Best of all, they have a factory tour, store, and cafe, so we're going to be overwhelmed with cheese today!

It's a Friday, and knowing it's going to be a long day and that we want to beat traffic coming home, we left early. It's a 2 hour drive through the mountains of Oregon out to the coast and to the city of Tillamook. Named for the Tillamook people who lived in this area until the early 19th century, Tillamook is known as the "Gateway to the Oregon Coast". 

I did mention we started early, right? Those who could, slept in the car through the windy mountain roads. 

When we arrived at the factory, I was surprised by how crowded the parking lot was! There are cars everywhere!

There's multiple different buildings here, but we are headed to the Visitor's Center, newly built in 2018 to give cheese lovers an even better view of the whole experience. Off to the right, we can see large holding tanks where all the milk is delivered daily. 

Farms deliver 25 truckloads of milk, containing 8000 gallons each, to make all the products that Tillamook creates each day. That's a lot of milk!

What does a sailboat have to do with milk? And why is it sitting outside a cheese factory? 

In 1851, settlers arrived in Tillamook Valley and found the area to be excellent for raising cattle. The only problem was getting that milk and butter to market. In 1854, farmers built the Morning Star which saved them from having to transport their milk over the mountain roads and by water instead. 

Ian helped me out by checking to see what the top deck looked like. 

Tillamook Cheese is Ian's favorite! Even when we were on the East Coast, he had us keeping an eye out for Tillamook Sharp Cheddar. 
Now let's head inside and see how they make all these tasty treats! 

Inside, stairs lead the way to the start of the self guided tour. 
Just like Cabot, Tillamook is a farmer owned company. Back in 1909, local creameries got together and contributed $10 each to form the Tillamook County Creamery Association. They banded together to make a uniform cheese and wait until is was properly aged to be put on the market. 

At the top of the stairs got a look down the hallway to the factory floor, but first, there are rooms to the left and right that tell a little bit more about the process of getting the milk. There's all sorts of different breeds of cows. Holsteins for instance generally produce the most milk. While Jersey cows produce milk that has the highest amount of butterfat. 
Hey, it's our Oreo cows! Guess they are also known as Dutch Belted cows. Now we know. 

You can't have milk without baby cows. They got to pretend to bottle feed a baby cow. 

Or to bottle feed Ian. I offered it to Avery, but she was not amused. Look at that sass. 

Hey! Patrick! Where did you get that cheese! 

Alli, Theresa, and Ian! You have cheese too! 

At the end of the factory tour, there is a cheese sample bar! I see no reason why we shouldn't have a little cheese while we do our tour, do you? 

There's three different cheese flavors for us to try today. Medium Cheddar, naturally aged, creamy, and full. Sharp Cheddar, naturally aged to be full-bodied, complex, and nutty. Smoked Black Pepper White Cheddar, marvelously melty black pepper studded cheddar with a hickory punch and slightly spicy finish.  

With cheese in hand, let's go see how they make it!

It all starts with the milk. Milk is pumped from the holding silos outside into the factory. 

At one point, cheese was made here in large open tubs, similar to how we watched cheese being made in Shelburne Farms in Vermont. Today though they've got a different method. The milk is pumped into large vats where a starter culture is added. After churning, the curds separate from the whey. By weight, only about 10% of the starting weight ends up as curds that will form cheese. The rest is whey. 
From there everything gets moved into the "cheddar master" where the curds are separated from the whey and massaged. 

Besides the starter culture, the only other ingredient this needs is salt!

All the curds are then compressed in the block forming towers. That squeezes the everything together then slices 40 pound "loafs" which are then bagged. There's only one more thing that this cheese needs. Time! Aged cheese will have a much stronger flavor than fresh cheese. 

Halfway through the tour, there is a video presentation, mostly focusing on products we can't see. Like ice cream! It's almost like a commercial for their other items. 

What better way to enjoy the video than to eat a little bit of cheese while we're doing it. 

Mmm. Tillamook Ice Cream! So many tasty flavors... Ideas are forming...

Back to the tour! The cheese has returned from storage after being aged for whatever time is required. 

Were there jokes made about cutting the cheese? Obviously. 

Once those 40 pound blocks of cheese come in and get cut, there's bound to be some blocks that are a little light or a little heavy. Here is where that gets corrected. Anything that is too heavy gets shaved down. Anything that's too light has a thin strip of cheese added to the block. 

Finally the blocks are packaged, checked for metal, then weighed one last time. If anything doesn't meet this final weight check, don't worry, it won't get wasted. All this can be turned into shredded cheese! 

Once the tour was completed (and we collected another sample of cheese) we looked down on the shop floor. There's all sorts of cheese things we can buy, like cheese curds, or small batch cheese flavors that are only sold here. 

Of course you can buy large blocks of cheddar cheeses. 5 lb blocks even larger than the ones you can find at Sam's Club, though also more expensive. $6 per pound here versus ~$4 per pound there. 

And look at all those different Tillamook Yogurt flavors! There's eleven different flavors there (Oregon Marionberry is there twice). Hmm, even more ideas forming in my head. 

I'm happy to see that they have some aged cheddars here as well, going back to 2010, meaning a 12 year aged cheddar. $50 per pound, which isn't that expensive based on the prices we saw at the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus

Could be tasty!

Along with edible offerings, there's other ways that you can show your love for cheese here. Socks, hats, shirts, and even a foam block of cheese that looked like one of their blocks of cheddar. 

Looking great!

It's a Tillamook Road Trip! These VW Buses have been bringing cheese to local cities since 2009. 

It really reminds me of the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream bus from Vermont

We've seen all these cheeses being made, and had some samples of different cheese, but it's lunchtime and I'm hungry! They have a cafe serving lots of different foods, and of course many include their tasty cheeses! We all hopped in an extra long line to place our order. 

Cheese pizza? Yes please! It was similar to a cafeteria style pizza where it's a large sheet pan with a rectangular pizza. I remember it being extra saucy, but tasty. 

I mean, how do you not get macaroni and cheese when you're at a cheese factory? It was extremely creamy with a peppery kick. Jon said it was so creamy that it was almost like a cheese soup and would make an excellent potato soup base! 

And fresh Tillamook cheese curds that are fried! Yum! We got two orders and tried all three dipping sauces, Spicy Chili Cheddar Ranch, Extra Sharp Cheddar Ranch, and NW Apple BBQ. The spicy ranch was my favorite of the three. 

While I was waiting in line, Theresa came over and told me about the different soda options they had available. I'm not usually on that orders soda from a restaurant, but these flavors intrigued me. I was still on the fence until she showed me the Pineapple Cream Soda. I'm in! Will it taste like a Dole Whip?  

No idea! Because after buying a cup to fill it, the Pineapple Cream Soda on both machines was only putting out carbonated water! No flavor at all! 
I opted to get the Orange Hibiscus. After trying it, Alli told me it tasted like "grass and regular tree leaves" (as opposed to irregular tree leaves?). Our favorites of the ones we tried was the Agave Vanilla Cream Soda. 

Well we had a lot of fun coming out to see the Tillamook Creamery! I'm so glad that we made the time to come visit!

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting Tillamook tour! One better be a cheese person since the cheese aroma will fill your senses from start to finish. Having those cheese samples made it even more cheesy throughout the tour. That mac 'n cheese definitely looked extra creamy...almost like a soup as mentioned. Too bad about the missing Pineapple Cream Soda...sounds like it could have been very tasty. That was a fun Tillamook tour day. EOM