If you were to ask my sixth-grade self, he would certainly tell you that the Tillamook Cheese Factory was the highlight of our class’s fall-time field trip, way back in 2006. It’s an Oregon bucket list destination, and has been for generations; I’m surely not the only one who has fond memories of sneaking an extra cheddar curd sample. More than a decade later, things have only gotten better at the renowned cheesemaker’s flagship location on the North Coast, which remains one of the state’s most popular attractions, drawing over one million guests a year.
But for all its allure, the old structures were certainly in need of a change. Since it opened in 1949, the cheesemaking plant and its other buildings had undergone various renovations and modifications over the decades. This eventually led to a hodgepodge layout that no longer fit the company’s forward-looking identity and commitment to upgrading everyday food moments through better-made dairy products. So, newly constructed facilities opened in June, 2018, with a sleek, modernized facade, contemporary branding and a new official name - Tillamook Creamery - to better convey its production of not only cheese, but ice cream.
For all the exterior’s impressive aesthetics, the 42,800-square-foot interior is an equally inspiring ode to the company’s long history and the hard-working farmer owners who helped build, and still lead, it. Thoughtful design ushers you on a self-guided tour throughout the space, weaving storytelling with interesting facts and hands-on interaction that will either leave you speechless or put a huge smile on your face (probably both).
The experience is fun for the entire family. Start by heading upstairs to the “On the Farm” exhibit. There, you’ll learn all about the process of raising and caring for dairy cows, with a barn full of interesting information, such as how technology is used on dairy farms, how the animals’ diets change over their lives and even the features of various breeds. You can even give milking a fake cow a shot.
Next on the circuit are the expansive factory floor windows, where each and every step of the cheese making process is explained, as you observe it in action behind-the-scenes. In the viewing gallery, you’ll witness the curds part ways with the whey, see employees cut the cheese (not like that), and watch the innovative blue octopus machine seal up blocks of Sharp Cheddar. It’s a ceaseless parade of cheesy delight.
By then, you’ll likely be hungry, and thankfully, from there the tour heads to the sampling room. Try all you like as you make your way down into the market shop, where you can pick up exclusive products – like fresh cheese curds or limited edition Maker’s Reserve vintage cheddars – for home and grab other Tillamook merch, such as sweatshirts, water bottles or magnets.
Stop by the Tillamook bus to snap an Insta-worthy photo on the way to the food hall, where you can sample a number of dishes from a Pacific Northwest-inspired menu created in partnership with Irving Street Kitchen’s Sarah Schafer. Spicy buffalo mac n’ cheese, the Tillamook cheeseburger and the piece de resistance, tempura battered cheese curds, will surely whet your appetite. But if not, there’s always room to try one of the thirty or so flavors of rich, creamy Tillamook ice cream.
If you haven’t had a chance to make the trip to Tillamook Creamery since the transformation, the down season is the perfect time to do it, where you’ll encounter shorter lines and smaller crowds. Don’t let the dreary weather keep you from the special event lineup that will take place over the course of the holiday months, including a meet-and-greet with Portland Timbers’ Diego Chara (11/16), the second annual Christmas tree lighting (11/23) and a breakfast with Santa Claus (12/7). You also won’t want to miss the holiday market in the Red Barn (10/25-12/15), where you can round out your holiday shopping with goods made from local makers.
It’s never too late to get last-minute stocking stuffers, and for those who can’t experience the festivities in person, Tillamook offers a webstore that ships goodies nationwide.