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Years ago, I saw a movie about a woman who wrote for a newspaper. She ran out of ideas, so she began writing about different uses of cheese. After five weeks, the editor called her into his office. When the writer revealed what amounted to burnout or loss of imagination, the editor blurted out: "You're a good writer -- write about anything. But no more cheese, lady!"

That was the best line in the movie.

However, since I haven't written about that use of milk, since Carol and I are in the town of Tillamook, Oregon, and since I really like cheese, I decided it was time to write about it. I hope my editor approves.

Tillamook is a Native American tribal name, but that's another story.

Mankind has been making cheese for more than 4,000 years, and I read that there are 1,831 kinds of cheese. Cheese is classified by geographic origin, what animal gave the milk, the animal's diet, age of cheese, texture, added ingredients, butterfat content, a lot more, and by combinations of all the above. Most milk used in cheese production is from cows; but cheese is also made of milk from goats, camels, sheep, yaks, buffalo and even reindeer. I wonder if anyone tried giraffe milk.

Tillamook is my favorite brand of cheese, and Colby Jack (marbled yellow and white) is my favorite kind. Don't ever confuse Colby Jack with Pepper Jack. That stuff is hot! (Maybe my editor would like it.)

The Tillamook Cheese Factory is a dairy cooperative that was founded in 1909. My first visit was in the summer of 1991 with Carol and the younger two kids (Rebecca and Michael), and this is my third visit. More than a million people a year must have the same taste for cheese as I do, so Tillamook Cheese Factory built a new visitor center, updated its name to Tillamook Creamery, and added a food court.

There is no admission price. You walk in and enjoy the moment, and enjoy all the free cheese samples.

So, how is cheese made? If you already know, skip the next four paragraphs.

Milk is poured into a vat, and an enzyme, rennet, is added to coagulate it. But juice from fruit, fig leaves, melons, safflower, vinegar, lemons, and other vegetation can be added instead. This causes the milk to curdle and separate from the liquid whey. Tillamook's vats hold 53,500 pounds (about 6,220 gallons) of fresh milk. The milk is stirred; and as the curds and whey separate, the whey is drained into another container while the curds begin to stick or knit together. This is called cheddaring.

Ten pounds of cow milk will produce one pound of cheese, while six pounds of sheep milk will produce a pound of cheese because of its much higher fat content. Goat cheese production is similar to cows.

I hope this isn't boring you. The whole process fascinates me.

The curds are chopped, cut, and pressed to release more liquid. Then the cheese curds are poured into a square column and compression slowly increases. When pressure reaches 800 pounds, it is held for two minutes then cut into 40-pound blocks. They are stored and aged from 60 days to five years, depending on their intended use.

After the proper aging, the blocks are cut into smaller blocks -- normally, half-pound, pound, and two-pound blocks. Mis-shaped or broken pieces are made into shredded-cheese. The Tillamook Creamery packages about a million pounds of cheese a week, and that takes a lot of milk!

There are hundreds of uses for the whey.

The new Tillamook Creamery center is a 38,500-square-foot building that allows visitors the privilege of learning about each step of the milk-to-cheese process, and allows them to actually see production from the second level. They have a fake cow with the milking apparatus available to see how quickly children could milk a cow; and a fake calf is available to let kids "experience" bottle-feeding a calf.

We visited the facility twice this week and really enjoyed learning. We ate lunch there, but the best part was the large Tillamook ice cream cones! Carol got huckleberry and chocolate-peanut butter, while I got chocolate and vanilla. That, with the free cheese samples on the second floor, topped off our meal.

If you get a chance, visit the Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook, Ore.

Maybe I should give Graham Thomas some cheese. Would he prefer Colby Jack or Pepper Jack?


Editorial on 12/05/2018

Print Headline: Tales From The Road: Tillamook Cheese

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