Tillamook Cheese Factory
With over a million visitors a year, the Tillamook Cheese Factory (4175 U.S. 101 N., 503/842-4481, www.tillamookcheese.com, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily Labor Day–mid-June, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily summer, free) is far and away the county’s biggest drawing card. The plant welcomes visitors with a reproduction of the Morningstar, the schooner that transported locally made butter and cheese in the late 1800s and now adorns the label of every Tillamook product.
The quaint vessel symbolizing Tillamook cheese-making’s humble beginnings stands in contrast to the technology and sophistication that go into making this world-famous lunchbox staple today.
Inside the plant, a self-guided tour follows the movement of curds and whey to the “cheddaring table.” Whey is drained from the curds, which are then cut and folded. These processes are coordinated by white-uniformed workers in a stadium-sized factory. As you look down on the antiseptic scene from the glassed-in observation area, it’s hard to imagine this as the birthplace of many a pizza and grilled-cheese sandwich. Tastes of a few samples, however, prove it’s true.
User-friendly informational placards and historical displays recount Tillamook Valley’s dairy history from 1851, when settlers began importing cows. The problem then was how to ship the milk to San Francisco and Portland. Even though salting butter to preserve it allowed exportation, ships still faced the difficulty of negotiating the treacherous Tillamook bar. In 1894, Peter McIntosh introduced techniques here to make cheddar cheese, whose long shelf life enabled it to be transported overland.
In the early 1900s, the Tillamook County Creamery Association absorbed smaller operations and opened the modern plant in 1949. Today, Tillamook produces tens of millions of pounds of cheese annually, including Monterey Jack, Swiss, and multiple variations of the award-winning white cheddar. Pepperoni, butter, cheese soup, milk, and other products are also available.
There’s a gift shop (more Holstein-themed tchotchkes than you’ve probably dreamed of) and a full-service restaurant, but the big attraction is the ice cream counter. Have a double-scoop chocolate peanut butter cone—worth every penny.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel