For those who’ve wandered through the Tillamook Cheese Factory—the great part-assembly-line, part-family-time-killer on the coast, where giant bricks of cheddar pass through a gauntlet of conveyor belts—a singular question sticks out: where to buy more cheese curds?
“We don’t sell our cheese curds in grocery stores because it would take too much time from the factory to store,” explains Tillamook’s Tori Harms, of the samples that are one of the Tillamook factory’s great attractions. “They would lose their squeak.”
So you have to make the trek. And soon the Tillamook Cheese Factory will distribute even more curds. The iconic destination, which first opened its doors in 1949, will close this spring and reopen in 2018 in a 38,500-square-foot space dreamed up by acclaimed Seattle architecture firm Olson Kundig, known for channeling Pacific Northwest aesthetics into modern design. (Fear not: a temporary center and shop will operate in the meantime.) To accommodate the factory’s 1.3 million annual visitors (about double the number of visitors Crater Lake gets in a year) the new center will be roughly 50 percent larger, with more efficient interior design to eliminate annoyances like long lines for ice cream.
“We’ll provide guests a much better opportunity to learn what makes Tillamook such a special company,” says Harms. “We’re not just a corporation that churns out cheese. We’re a farmer-owned co-op.”
While the brand’s ownership group, the 108-year-old Tillamook County Creameries Association, hopes to reach even more visitors, the renovations won’t increase actual cheese output. (Combined, this location and a plant in Boardman, more than 200 miles inland, produce or process an average of 550,000 pounds of cheese a day.) But the facility may spur investigations into new types of Oregon cheese, with a research development work space where a team of pro tasters will engineer futuristic varieties our forebears could never have imagined. What a time to be alive!