Creamery Cafe and Tillamook Ice Creamery at Tillamook Cheese Factory
During the Fall of 2014, my husband and I decided that for our annual Christmas trip out of town we would head up to Portland, Oregon and the Oregon coastline for a few days. My mom went to graduate school in Oregon and I’d always heard stories about it growing up and had wanted to visit, but never had. Crazy, since I live in California and have traveled all over, but I’ve never been to the state just north of where I’ve spent my whole life. My husband has passed through Portland and other parts of Oregon several times and always thought that I would like Oregon. In fact, there was talk last spring of us trying to head up to Southern Oregon to visit Crater Lake National Park. Unfortunately, that never materialized, but that’s definitely on the “to do” list for the future. For now, it was time to take a few days off and enjoy what Northern Oregon had to offer.
As my husband and I planned our trip to Oregon, we starting coming up with a list of places we were interested in visiting or checking out that were in and around the Portland area, or out towards the coastline. As I looked online for various things, one thing on the map of Oregon caught my eye, to the west of Portland, near the coastline was a small little town called Tillamook. The name caught my eye because my husband is a huge lover of all things cheese, and Tillamook Cheese is quite well known. When I investigated further, I discovered that there was a Tillamook Cheese Factory that was open to the public and could be visited. The minute I brought up this idea with my husband, he enthusiastically agreed that we should make a trek out to the Tillamook Cheese Factory.
Tillamook is a small community in northwest Oregon where the yearly rainfall average is plentiful making grass growing easy. In turn, good grass means a perfect place for cows to graze. Grazing cows means a booming dairy farm community. In the late 1890s, a man by the name of Peter McIntosh brought with him an age old recipe for cheddar and an expertise in cheese making to Tillamook. Beginning in 1909, a bunch of dairy farmers banded together to create the Tillamook County Cheese Association. This farmer-owned co-op produced the first official Tillamook Cheese. Today, Tillamook Cheese is still a farmer-owned co-op made up of just about 100 farm families from Tillamook County, many of which have been part of the community for multiple generations. Being farmer-owned means that Tillamook can control the quality of the product that goes into producing their world famous dairy product. From the time the milk leaves each dairy farm, it arrives at the Tillamook Cheese Factory within one hour. Unlike other cheese factories, milk arriving to the factory is turned into cheese within 24 hours of arrival at the factory, therefore, preservatives are never required nor added to the milk. Essentially, within 25 hours of leaving the farm, the milk becomes cheese. And it takes a whole lot of milk to produce a small amount of cheese. For instance 100 pounds of fresh milk only produces 10 pounds of cheese. In normal day at the factory 171,000 pounds of cheese are produced, or about 130 million pounds of cheese per year. That’s a lot of cheese and a lot of milk. But, the Tillamook County Cheese Association doesn’t just make high-quality tasty cheese, they also use the dairy to make other products, such as butter, ice cream, yogurt and sour cream.
When you visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory, you can go on a self-guided tour of their cheese-making operations. There are descriptions and videos which show you how the dairy they receive is processed, and how the milk is turned into curds and whey and how those curds and whey eventually become the famous Tillamook cheese that we all love. The operation is huge, and has to be the largest operation in Tillamook County, either in terms of dairy farms associated with the Tillamook County Cheese Association that supplies all of the milk, or the actual cheese makers, ice cream makers and other people who work at the Tillamook Cheese Factory.
Of course, at the end of your self-guided tour, you’re provided with free samples of the world famous Tillamook cheese. The cheese samples we were provided with during our visit included the squeaky cheese (curds), Tillamook medium cheddar, and the special reserve extra sharp cheddar cheese. The squeaky cheese curds are what my husband was most looking forward to prior to visiting Tillamook, and hoping that they would have samples of. For me, out of all of the different varieties of cheese that we sampled, the special reserve extra sharp cheddar was my favorite. I’ve always been a fan of cheddar cheese, and for me, the sharper the better as it’s that extra bite of the sharp cheddar that draws me in.
The other three flavors that we sampled were Swiss cheese, smoked medium cheddar and garlic white cheddar. The Swiss cheese was good as it was just so different from the other varieties available for sampling. As expected, it had a nutty flavor to it, but it wasn’t incredibly pronounced, which is what I like, especially since I’m not the biggest fan of Swiss cheese. I was quite surprised to taste the smoked medium cheddar as the first thing that hits your taste buds is the flavor and aroma of the smoke. Even if you weren’t told in advance what kind of cheese this was, you would know right away that it was smoked. That smoky flavor was very strong and pronounced. The same could be said about the garlic white cheddar, the cheese was very garlicky with a pungent garlic flavor. If you aren’t a fan of garlic, you’d want to stay away from this particular variety of cheese, as the garlic really tasted like fresh garlic infused into this cube of white cheddar cheese.
At the very end of the cheese making factory tour and sampling, you’re led through a market where every variety of Tillamook cheese and dairy product produced at the factory is sold to the public, including gift baskets and samplers that you can’t find anywhere else. My husband couldn’t leave the store without picking up a package of squeaky cheese curds for the road.
As part of the Tillamook Cheese Factory, Tillamook operates their own fudge shop, café and ice cream shop. The fudge shop was stocked with more than 20 different flavors of homemade fudge using Tillamook dairy. Some of the flavors included, maple walnut, marionberry cheesecake, dark chocolate hazelnut, caramel coconut cheesecake, mint chocolate swirl, heath toffee crunch, peanut butter, white raspberry cheesecake, salted caramel, milk chocolate walnut, creamsicle, creamsicle chocolate swirl, amaretto chocolate swirl, and vanilla pecan just to give you a sample. The café, known as the Creamery Café serves up a wide variety of food items featuring, what else, various Tillamook cheese products. My husband and cheese go together like a moth to a flame, there was no way we were visiting the factory without enjoying lunch at the café.
My husband went with your traditional grilled cheese sandwich with a side of tater tots. Of course, at Tillamook, it’s not just your simple grilled cheese, rather this was the Centennial Grilled Cheese made with a combination of sharp cheddar and vintage white medium cheddar on thick sourdough bread. The combination of the sharp cheddar and vintage white medium cheddar was a terrific combination as there’s a bit of a bite from the sharp cheddar, but that’s balanced out with the medium white cheddar. The creaminess of Tillamook cheese allows the cheddar to melt perfectly on crispy, crunchy sourdough bread that compliments the melted cheese perfectly.
While I too choose to enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich, I kicked mine up a notice with the Cheese Supreme made with medium cheddar, bacon and tomato on grilled sourdough bread. I paired my meal with a cup of cream of tomato soup. After all, grilled cheese and tomato soup is every kids idea of the perfect meal. A grilled cheese sandwich is the perfect vehicle for really being able to taste the cheese. Even though my sandwich was made with medium cheddar, Tillamook’s medium cheddar has as much bite as most other cheese makers sharp cheddar, which I love because the sharper and more aged, the better for me. You can really taste the creaminess in the cheese and see it in the way it melts on the grilled sourdough bread.
Of course, if my husband and cheese are like a moth to a flame, then me and ice cream are a match made in heaven. With a full Tillamook Ice Creamery shop located at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, I couldn’t leave without sampling some of the amazing Tillamook ice cream.
As a full, operational ice cream shop, the Tillamook Ice Creamery makes their own fresh made waffle cones and bowls, either plain or all dressed up, and serves up not only scoops of their famous ice cream, but also milk shakes, malts, ice cream floats, ice cream sodas, and sundaes, among other items. You can get your ice cream in a single scoop, double scoop, triple scoop or even as a 3 scoop or 5 scoop sampler dish. Or, even you are adventurous enough, or have enough friends with you, you can try out the ice cream adventure which gives you a single scoop of every flavor the Ice Creamery has available. That’s a whole lot of ice cream.
While my husband and I like our ice cream, the ice cream adventure was just a bit too much for just the two of us to handle. My husband sent me to the Ice Creamery with the orders to get him 2 scoops in a cup. What two scoops? He told me to choose for him, 2 scoops that I thought he might like. Hm, the decisions were tough as so many of the ice cream flavors sounded, and looked, so tempting. There was orange sherbert, which I was sure my husband would like, but I couldn’t figure out what to pair it up with. Now, if it had been my husband, he wouldn’t have cared and would have just chosen 2 flavors that he liked, regardless of how well they went together. For me, I’m pickier, and since he asked me to choose for him, I had to try and find two flavors that paired together well. Other flavors available when we were at the Ice Creamery included fireside s’mores, Grandma’s cake batter, mountain huckleberry, marionberry pie, rocky road, Tillamook mudslide, Oregon black cherry and Oregon hazelnut & salted caramel. I was thinking my husband might enjoy the Grandma’s cake batter, but I wanted to find something more unique, something more fitting of Tillamook. The Oregon black cherry and the mountain huckleberry were definitely contenders.
Not to be overlooked was white chocolate raspberry yum, a flavor I know my husband would enjoy, purely for the raspberry aspect of it. Though I didn’t know if the “yum” was just part of the name, of it meant there was some added extra ingredient in the ice cream. There were also more traditional flavors such as chocolate, chocolaty chip cookie dough, cookies and cream, French vanilla, old fashioned vanilla and mint chocolate chip. The chocolaty chip cookie dough is probably one I would enjoy, though I had my eye on a different flavor. The mint chocolate chip is something my husband would enjoy, but really, you can get mint chocolate chip ice cream anywhere. The remaining flavors available the day we were visiting were the caramel butter pecan, udderly chocolate, egg nog, coffee almond fudge, caramel toffee crunch, chocolate peanut butter, vanilla chocolate chip and the espresso mocha.
In the end, I was able to find two flavors that were uniquely Tillamook and representative of the area that also would pair well together and I knew my husband would love: Oregon strawberry and Oregon blueberry patch. My husband was happy with my selection as he had had Oregon strawberry before so he knew it would be good, and the Oregon blueberry patch is a flavor he would have chosen for himself as blueberries are his favorite fruit (or you could even say food). Made with locally grown Oregon strawberries and blueberries, the ice cream was creamy and smooth, and incredibly rich. It tasted fresh, and made with good quality dairy. The colors of the ice cream itself may not look the most appealing as the strawberry had a very light off-white hue with some subtle flecks of red, and the blueberry was just slightly lavender in color with some dark purple flecks. But this tells you that the ice cream is natural with no added food coloring or dye to make the ice cream more appealing, just the use of good old fashioned fresh, ripened strawberries and blueberries.
For me, I couldn’t resist the pull of a waffle sundae. After all, the aroma of fresh made waffle bowls being made onsite is enough to make my mouth water. The waffle sundae comes with one scoop of ice cream, for which I chose the banana split ice cream. Fitting huh? A sundae made with banana split ice cream which is a combination of vanilla and strawberry ice cream with bits of walnut, banana and maraschino cherries mixed throughout and a swirl of fudge. It’s like a banana split all rolled up into one convenient scoop. Top the sundae with strawberries, whipped cream and nuts, and you’ve got a recipe for ice cream perfection. Oh man, this waffle sundae was superb. The banana split ice cream was fabulous, super creamy and rich. But the best part was that you could taste the banana split, the strawberry and the vanilla and the fudge swirl and I definitely got bits of maraschino cherry and banana throughout the scoop as well as the walnuts. It’s the best banana split ice cream I’ve tasted. Top the whole thing with whipped cream and nuts and strawberry topping, put it all inside a fresh waffle bowl, how can you go wrong?
If you ever find yourself in Northwest Oregon, make the drive to the Tillamook Cheese Factory, especially if you’re a dairy and/or cheese fan. It was incredibly interesting and informative to see how the dairy farm lifestyle is so ingrained in this community and how the Tillamook County Cheese Association operates as a co-op with all of these dairy farms to produce and bring to market such high quality products, including the cheese, the butter, the ice cream and so much more. This is the life blood of the people who live in and around this community. And of course, don’t forget to try the free cheese samples, and grab a bite to eat from the Creamery Café or to grab a scoop, or two, of ice cream from the Tillamook Ice Creamery. Everything is made with much love and care, and it’s super fresh and tasty. You can’t go wrong!