Recently I was lucky enough to visit the Tillamook Cheese factory in Oregon. This trip was fantastic and fun, interesting and beautiful…seriously, I could go on and on. It was my first trip to Oregon and definitely wont be my last! It also led to an amazing macaroni cheese recipe.
Myself and eight other bloggers were given a nuts and bolts inside look at the Tillamook dairy co-op consisting of 99 local farmers. Tillamook has a rich history stretching back to 1909 when several local creameries took it upon themselves to form an alliance ensuring the public had access to high quality dairy products. Those policies are still in place today and with the addition of the latest technologies, the quality and consistency are even higher. Our trip started in downtown Portland. We were staying at The Hotel Deluxe, a Hollywood style hotel commissioned in 1912. If you ever visit Portland I highly recommend staying here, the room was extremely comfortable and service well above my expectations. After the best nights sleep I’ve had in a while we jumped on a bus and headed out towards the coast to Tillamook.
It was raining but it didn’t dampen our cheese spirit and of course as bloggers we embrace the chance to take pictures (and selfies) wherever we can, even with cars speeding past us just feet away. The road we traveled was just starting to wind down for fall and the Oregon scenery reminded me a lot of my home in Scotland. We made it to the factory- which greets about 1 million cheese loving visitors each year- and after donning our stylish white lab coats and handy hair-nets we began our exclusive behind-the-scenes tour.
Tillamook have a really efficient storing system in place to deal with the 50-55 million pounds of on site aging cheese. Any block of cheese can be pin-pointed by computers and pulled from it’s shelf in minutes. I think my favorite part of the plant was the sensory lab. This is where 2-3 gifted employees taste and evaluate blocks of cheese from each vat of cheese made. To me, it seems like the perfect job but wait..they also taste all of the Tillamook ice cream flavors too! But they don’t actually consume it (enter sad face here) it’s quickly tasted and then expectorated, just like coffee or wine testers. The testing team are highly skilled and make sure only the best cheese is allowed to make it to the grocery store.
After pulling plugs of cheese from 40 pound blocks and tasting outrageously good ice cream, it was time to check out the front of the factory and fill up on a lunch of various grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. If you do visit Tillamook, make sure to sample the fudge and cheese curds which are only available at the plant.
Our next destination was Pacific City and our hotel for the night, The Inn at Cape Kiwanda, another fantastic hotel which almost sits right on the beach. The view from my room balcony was amazing and even though the weather was still on the damp side, I think it made it even more beautiful! After a quick walk on the beach I headed back to get ready for dinner at the Pelican restaurant which provided many laughs!
What a difference a day makes! The weather changed dramatically the next day and this was perfect for our trip to one of the Tillamook co-op farms. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we were all looking forward to getting down and dirty with the cows. The only problem was, the cows weren’t dirty. In fact the whole farm was immaculate and this is a testament to the 99 farmers who make up the Tillamook co-op. They care about what they do and take great pride in their farming practices and caring for the animals like these Jersey and Holstein cows. A one year old Holstein can weigh up to 600 pounds and eat 100 pounds of feed per day. Healthy cows produce superior milk and this is easy to understand after tasting Tillamook cheese.
It’s not just about healthy practices, each farmer has a personal obligation to deliver the highest quality of milk possible. Each tanker that delivers milk to the plant to be processed is tested for antibiotics and if any are present, then the load is rejected. This is where we as consumers can be one-hundred percent certain we are getting the best cheese and dairy products from Tillamook. Each farmer has signed a pledge to never use artificial growth hormones.
The cows are milked twice a day and this is where it happens. They mosey their rear ends into those stalls and the milk is extracted. The first milking can be as early as 3 a.m, It would be great if the cows could do all of this themselves but until then, the farmer has to rise in the middle of the night to start his day. Another milking will be done in the afternoon. There really is no down time on a farm but these dedicated people enjoy their lifestyle and don’t see it as a regular job.
The cows are fed a mixture of grains like barley or soy but can include grass and corn silage. The cows on the left in this picture are munching on a corn feed which is only available at certain times of the year and they love it!
The Tillamook Blog 2 Farm gang pictured on a leg stretching stop. It was a pleasure to meet some of these great people for the first time and ride side by side on a bus through the Oregon countryside! Pictured left to right are-
Kathy- Panini Happy, Stacy- Kid, Stuff, World, Vianney- Sweet Life Bake, Jenn- Real Posh Mom, Heather- Farmgirl Gourmet, Me (squinting), Staci- 7 On A Shoestring, Carrian- Oh Sweet Basil. Also on the tour but not pictured here were Chelsea and Nate from Someday I’ll Learn.
And finally the team that made the whole amazing three days happen. Special thanks to the farmers, Tillamook staff who herded us everywhere (get it?) without losing anyone and Kelly and Dyan from SodaPop PR.
Disclaimer- My trip was hosted by Tillamook, all opinions and thoughts are my own.
- 8 ounces of elbow macaroni
- ¼ cup finely chopped shallots
- 2 Tbsp Tillamook butter
- 2 tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅛ tsp black pepper
- 2½ cups Tillamook Smoked Black Pepper White Cheddar, grated
- 1 cup roughly chopped cooked bacon
- 2 cups cooked langostinos
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease or butter an oven safe dish.
- Cook the pasta, drain and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the shallots. Cook until the shallots are soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for about another 3 minutes over a low-medium heat.
- Gradually add the milk, whisking as you add.
- Bring to a boil and simmer gently, whisking often until the sauce starts to thicken.
- Add the salt, pepper and 2 cups of the grated cheese and whisk until smooth and lump free.
- Add the pasta to the sauce along with the bacon and the langostino.
- Gently fold together and pour into the prepared dish. Top with the remaining cheese.
- Bake for about 20 minutes and the top is bubbling and starting to turn golden.
- Serve at once with hot crusty garlic bread.
Adapted from The Tillamook Cookbook