We are currently camping at the mouth of Tillamook Bay. The Tillamook Cheese factory is just a few miles up the road. Since this is our preferred cheddar, we took the self guided tour. It would have been better with an actual guide, but we were still interested and learned a lot.
This is a replica of Morning Star. In the early days, there were no roads across the mountains to Tillamook, so the Morning Star used to carry the cheese out of the bay, along the Oregon coast, and up the Columbia River to Portland. We have driven the current road through the mountains and we think the sea route might still be faster.
During the first part of the tour, we saw large vats of milk - I think each vat held over 50,000 gallons.
This is where the tour and the milk both get a little cheesey. When the vats are emptied, the product goes up round pipes and the next thing you know, cheese magically drops from the ceiling through square tubes. We have no idea what happened between the time the round pipes took the milk away and the square tubes dropped 40 pound blocks of cheese on the conveyor belt. It was a bit disappointing that we didn't get to see the heart of the process.
The rest of the tour was the storing and packaging process. The orange rectangles below are vacuums that remove the air from the cheese bag so that the cheese can be stored until it is ready to be packaged.
Once the cheese is ready to cut and package (60 days for mild cheddar) They send it to the packing room where it is cut (using wires) weighed for accuracy, packaged, and labeled for shipment.
At the end of the tour, they had samples of cheese to try. They each had a distinct flavor and were quite tasty.
They then send you into the cheese store to tempt you with even more tasty treats. We didn't make a purchase today, but we might go back for ice cream before we leave.
The tour was interesting enough if you are in the area, but we wouldn't go out of our way to get there. We will still buy the cheese - very good cheese!