Armchair photo tours: Cheese making at the Tillamook Creamery

Photos by Cheryl Landes

I love cheese, and one of my favorite brands is Tillamook. So, when I go to the town of Tillamook on the Oregon Coast, what better place to stop than at the source?

At the Tillamook Creamery, we can take a self-guided tour of the cheese-making process, sample cheese, stock up on cheese and other locally made products in the creamery store, enjoy a meal in the cafe, and grab a cone or dish of Tillamook ice cream for dessert.

During my last visit to the creamery, I started with a lunch consisting of a salad, grilled tuna and cheese sandwich with bacon, and a latte.

Lunch at the Tillamook Creamery

From there, I went upstairs to take the self-guided tour of the cheese-making process. Signs on the stairs provide directions.

The stairway to the self-guided cheese-making tour at the Tillamook Creamery

If climbing stairs is challenging, there’s also an elevator.

At the top of the stairs, I saw a small exhibit about cows—their lives on the farm, how to milk them, and technology used to ensure they’re healthy. This collar caught my eye.

A computerized cow collar that tracks how much the cow is moving and chewing her cud.

From there, I walked to the self-guided tour area. Stations with large windows give a step-by-step, bird’s-eye view into the cheese-making process. At each station, placards describe each step of the process.

The self-guided tour area at the Tillamook Creamery

The cheese-making process starts at the cooking vats. Each vat is eight feet high and filled with milk from the bottom. It takes 70 minutes for each vat to fill and the curd sets. Then it takes 40 minutes for the cooked curds to move on to the next step in the process. Each vat produces three to four batches of curds every day.

The cooking vats at the Tillamook Creamery

Next, the curds move to a cheddarmaster, a long, rectangular machine with portholes. The cheddarmaster drains the whey from the curds and stretch and flip the curds in a solid mat of curds. This process is called cheddaring.

The cheddarmaster at the Tillamook Creamery

The whey isn’t wasted. It’s turned into a sweet whey powder that’s used in high-protein drinks, baby formula, protein bars, and other products.

Then the curd mats move to the salter. Salt is the only ingredient added to Tillamook cheese. The salt draws out more whey and slows the production of lactic acid. Less whey makes the cheese drier, which helps in the aging process.

From there, the curd mats are compressed into 40-pound blocks in the block-forming towers and vacuum sealed.

The block-forming tower (left) and vacuum sealer (right) at the Tillamook Creamery.

Then the blocks move to the cold storage warehouse to age.

The journey to the cold storage warehouse at the Tillamook Creamery

When the cheese has finished aging, the blocks are quality tested for smell, texture, and taste. Some might return to the warehouse for further aging, and the rest goes to the cutting machine to be cut into smaller blocks that will be shipped to supermarkets.

The quality checkpoint at the Tillamook Creamery

Cutting the cheese into smaller blocks at the Tillamook Creamery

Inspecting the smaller blocks of cheese at the Tillamook Creamery

After the blocks of cheese pass inspection, they move to the Blue Octopus vacuum sealer. The machine got its name from its movement, which looks like a ride at an amusement park. Each chamber closes over a block of cheese and shrink wraps the cheese.

The Blue Octopus shrink wrapper at the Tillamook Creamery

From there, the packaged cheese is ready to be boxed and shipped to market.

After the tour, I stopped at the self-serve cheese sampling area to try different flavors of Tillamook cheese. Then I went downstairs to buy some cheese at the store before returning home.

Self-serve cheese samples at the Tillamook Creamery

A view of the Tillamook Creamery store from the second floor

Inside the Tillamook Creamery store

Fresh cheese for sale at the Tillamook Creamery shop

The Tillamook Cheese Van display across the hall from the store

Old-fashioned Tillamook milk bottles and cartons

The entrance to the Tillamook Creamery from U.S. Highway 101

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