Tillamook Cheese is headquartered in Tillamook County, Oregon. "We took campers on the factory tour here whenever it rained," said Maggie, a summer camp counselor for many years (and it rained more than once—hey, this is Oregon!). It might actually be a law that every child in the state of Oregon must visit this factory at least once.
Located just off the 101 Oregon Coast Highway, you'll see the tall stainless steel vats of milk out front. Fifteen million pounds of milk goes through the factory each day and the majority of it comes from cows in Tillamook county (where they all Tillamoooo, sorry milk puns are too easy). We passed quite a few cows leisurely grazing on the verdant Oregon grass while driving around here.
Tillamook is a cooperative-run business which means the 105 dairy farmers who supply the milk for the cheese (and ice cream, sour cream, butter, and yogurt) are also part-owners of the company. Many of the dairy farmers are relatives of those original farmers who started the business over 100 years ago, back when the milk was still delivered by horse-drawn wagon.
The factory is open to the public daily and inside you can watch the workers in action. Depending on the day, they could be packaging blocks* of medium cheddar, sharp cheddar, Colby Jack or Pepper Jack scooting down the conveyer belt.
* Note: in Tilamookspeak, a "block" is called a "loaf."
We also went behind-the-scenes (hair nets and white coats required) to meet Julie at the Sensory Lab. Her job: to taste anywhere from 150 to 300 samples on any given day (don't worry, she spits—this is sort of like wine tasting and she wants to avoid getting cheese-drunk). She takes a sample from each batch of cheese produced here and analyzes it based on taste, smell, and texture to determine if the cheddar is best suited for: medium, sharp, or extra sharp grade. "You can't replace human taste buds with any machines," she said.
To Be Continued.. this factory tour was followed by a visit to the Tillamook scoop deck where we tried all 30+ ice cream flavors. Stay tuned for a full report this week!