The next time you’re driving along the Oregon Coast, be sure to stop in “the land of cheese, trees, and ocean breeze.” The Tillamook Cheese Visitor Center on Highway 101 is open year-round, seven days a week for free, fun tours. And no worries on where to park or turn around— the huge parking lot easily accommodates even the biggest rigs.
Inside the Visitor Center, you’ll experience the entire cheese making process— from the cow to the refrigerator— in about 30 minutes. The elevated viewing platforms allow for a bird’s eye view of the cheese makers and packagers hard at work down below. Although the huge stainless steel cooking vats that each hold 53,500 pounds of milk are pretty impressive, the assembly lines are really amazing. Forty-pound blocks of cheese are precisely weighed, trimmed, and packaged by employees who smile and wave at the visitors peering down at them.
At the end of the interesting self-guided tour, help yourself to samples of award-winning cheeses. Fresh curds or “squeaky cheese” is the most unique variety. There’s also a large gourmet food store that carries all the Oregon-made and Tillamook products you can imagine, so take home some tasty souvenirs. You’ll also find a café, an ice cream counter serving over 40 flavors, and a gift store filled with hundreds of items emblazoned with Tillamook’s mascot—what else—the dairy cow!
And speaking of cows, Tillamook has a lot of them. Although only about 4,400 people live in the small town, over 25,000 cows also call Tillamook’s lush, river-laced pastures their home. And, of course, lots and lots of cows are needed to generate the 78,000,000 pounds of cheese made each year!
Cheese making has been an art form in Tillamook for well over 100 years. In the late 1890s, a Canadian cheesemaker experienced with the cheddaring process, brought a recipe for cheddar cheese with him when he settled in Tillamook. His recipe is still used to this day, and cheese is still aged the old fashioned way—slowly and naturally—no enzymes are added to speed up the process. In fact, it takes a minimum of nine months to develop Tillamook’s characteristic sharp cheddar flavor and at least 15 months for extra sharp!
Although it’s easy to find Tillamook cheese, ice cream, butter, and yogurt in most grocery stores, there’s nothing like seeing the cheese making process first-hand to really appreciate what you’re eating—not to mention sampling delicious goodies so fresh they squeak!
Tillamook Cheese Visitor Center
4175 Highway 101 North
Tillamook, Oregon 97141
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com