First off, I get 20 points for using a bad pun in my title.
Now, to the loaf of it. Ok, that one didn’t work at all.
We’re going to talk about cheese today. That wonderful food group that takes up a whole drawer in my fridge. More specifically, we’re going to chat about Tillamook cheese.
Tillamook is a dairy co-op. It is headquartered just north of Foggy-Cold-Coast-Land, oh I’m sorry, I meant Tillamook.
This summer a girlfriend and I bumbled our way over to the factor for a self-guided tour. In clothes laced with the scent of the previous night’s campfire, we were looking forward to a relaxing, tasty day.
I had been to the factory once before. What I remembered the most was the drive. We took Highway 101 up from Newport. As we wound and twisted in a somewhat northward direction, the highway turned more into a back road. It was one of those rare, sunny, Oregon days. We dropped into a valley of lush green fields, going no more than 20 miles per hour and for more than a moment I felt as if I had been swept away to Scotland.
If this was a perfect story I would have then thrown my boyfriend of the time out of the truck and been carried away by Matthew Goode. Unfortunately, that was not the case, but a girl can keep dreaming.
But I digress, my point is this: if you have the chance to drive up the 101 to Tillamook DO IT.
Back to the story:
The Tillamook cheese factory is a wonderland of information and fun. My friend, Clare, and I were greeted by a bit of child-chaos, as we had forgot it was THE WEEKEND (silly us).
- Tillamook was started in 1909 by a group of farmers. They made salty butter.
- The Tillamook Cheese Factory receives about 1.7 million pounds of milk each day
- There are 120 dairy farms in Tillamook County w/ approx 28,000 cows countywide
The tour wraps around a large windowed area where visitors can watch workers package cheese. Or, at least that’s all that’s happened the two times I was there. It’s addicting to watch but it’d also be interesting to see the actual cheese-making process (yes, yes, for those of you that have been I know, the cheese is being made in the big metal vats. But it’s be fun to watch every step in the time you visit the factory…if that’s even possible?)
A little on how cheese is made, via Tillamook:
- It starts with milk: fresh milk is heat-shocked then poured into vats for cooking. A starter culture that produces lactic acid is added and then rennet (an enzyme that helps the milk coagulate)
- Then the curds and whey (remember “little Miss Muphet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey,” did they mean CHEESE?): At this point we have cheese curds. They’re cut into small pieces. Then the temperature of the vats is raised, which releases liquid, called whey, from the curds.
- And the last part is that it’s aged in 40 lb. blocks
Hooray, consider yourself cheese-educated.
The most fun part of the factory is, of course, the (free) cheese sampling. They lay out a whole selection with everything from classic cheddar to habenero jack. While it’s a ploy to get you to buy the same exact cheese you could buy at your local Fred Meyer for a higher price, it’s nice to try things you might not have and not drop the $7 on a block of cheese you may or may not like.
Tillamook also makes ice cream, sour cream, butter and yogurt. Although the factory is 140 miles away, I consider it my local dairy.
I grew up in Southern Oregon with Umpqua Dairy products. I never really knew why we didn’t just buy off-brand. We didn’t have much money but mom always spent the little extra to buy Umpqua milk. When I moved away to college she told me to buy local milk. Her advice faded away (with my budget).
One day, a friend sent me a link to check where my milk was from. I pulled the not-very-tasty off-brand milk out of the fridge, punched in the code and found out that my milk was from China. CHINA. Somehow that felt inherently wrong. And gross. What did they have to do to keep my milk from going bad? I didn’t want to know.
I switched to a brand of milk I knew was sourced locally.
Luckily, I had always bought Tillamook cheese. I knew that if I shopped carefully I could find my 2 lb. block for about $6. Whereas most student’s staple foods are beer and Top Ramen, mine has always been cheese and ice cream. There are so many cheap and flavorful things you can make with the help of cheddar cheese. Quesadillas,mac-n-cheese, tacos.
When I think of Tillamook, I remember the cows I saw on that winding road and that if I so desired, I could probably go track down which cow helped produce the cheese I’m eating.
Check out Tillamook here. Their self-guided tour hours for Fall/Winter/Spring are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.