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We're expecting some serious cheese retailing here at Tillamook's future gift shop area.

Image: Olson Kundig

Have you curd the moos? The Tillamook Cheese factory is expanding. On Monday, operators announced that the Oregon Coast’s beloved tourist attraction will close in spring 2017 and re-open in the summer of 2018. The schmancy new 38,500-square-foot space will be designed to maximize visitor experience. (A temporary center will be open to visitors during construction.)

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Here's the original facility—as blockish as economy size medium-sharp cheddar.

While the Big Cheese building has aged quite nicely since 1949, these days the squared-off landmark just off Highway 101 struggles to accommodate the 1.3 million cheeseheads who patronize the factory each year. According to Tillamook County Creameries Association communications manager Tori Harms, the new building—designed by Seattle design firm Olson Kundig—represents “a significant investment in our presence here (Tillamook)." 

How significant? Harms declined to put a price tag on the project, but described enhancements to the visitor's center like increased outdoor and indoor seating area, more signage for the historical wing, and built-in design fixes to address those lengthy lines for ice cream. The cafe will still feature its signature grilled cheese, but reinvigorate its menu with wood-fired pizza and an array of Pacific Northwest beer and wine. Likewise, the association pledges to upgrade your cheese voyeurism experience as you gaze longingly at giant hunks of cheddar and the folks that coax them into existence. Perhaps the most compelling new addition will be a research development work space where visitors can indulge in some serious taste tests. (How to qualify for these focus groups? That hasn’t yet been finalized, but we've already got our hands up.)

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And here's the new Big Cheese, in the architect's rendering.

Image: Olson Kundig

In the meantime, Tillamook's temporary visitor's center will aim to satisfy our cravings—still peddling cheese, ice cream, and sandwiches. One reason not to wait until spring 2018: the main attraction of the interim center will be a new 3-D interactive exhibit that simulates life on an actual dairy farm.

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The new upper level gallery.

Image: Olson Kundig

“The plans are still in the works, but it will feature fiberglass cows," says Harms. "You’ll be able to hook up (artificial) equipment to show how you milk a cow, learn about what cows eat and how baby calves are taken care of and the whole process of what a dairy farm is like.” 

The wheels of cheese move slowly, she cautions, and opening and closing dates may fluctuate as construction unfolds. If you’re planning a coastal adventure next summer, and cheese is primary on the agenda, be sure to call ahead to check on the status of the center. (And check back here at the Portland Monthly cheese desk—we'll pass along nibbles as we find them.)

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The factory's sleek new future dining hall.

Image: Olson Kundig

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