Live Out Your Dairy Dreams at the House Cheddar Built

Tillamook Creamery is one of the top tourist destinations in all of Oregon.

November 27, 2023 6:41 am
Tillamook Creamery
Tillamook Creamery

Disney fans have Disney World, chocoholics have HersheyPark and Dolly Parton stans have Dollywood. But for those of us who live and breathe cheese, there’s only one icon worth the pilgrimage: Tillamook Creamery. Out on the craggy coast of northern Oregon, amidst a swath of fertile farmland, this longstanding dairy destination has been perfecting the art of aged cheddar for more than a century. It’s steadily expanding its brand to include all manner of ice creams, butters and yogurts, and christening a colossal creamery filled with exhibits, tours, swag and all the ooey-gooey comfort food you could crave. 

Basically Dairy Disneyland, Tillamook Creamery signals the organic evolution of a farmer-owned brand that’s been at the forefront of agriculture and sustainability since 1909, long before the notion of farm-to-table entered the chat. In addition to supplying top-tier cheese and dairy products to markets across the country, Tillamook County is hallowed ground for diehard cheeseheads who flock to the public-facing creamery to experience “The House Cheddar Built.” 

Tillamook remains a farmer-owned co-op to this day
Tillamook remains a farmer-owned co-op to this day.

Dairy Done Right 

Considering Tillamook has been making cheese since before the Titanic sank, it’s safe to expect they’ve got the recipe for success down pat. Indeed, the brand does their due diligence when it comes to dairy, and that means crafting products that are as reputable and responsible as they are delicious. Despite its theme park-like size and scope, the company maintains the same homespun ethos as day one when the comparatively boutique operation would literally sail cheese up the river to Portland. Nowadays, there are more economical means of cheddar transport, and the company has established a prolific brand awareness across the country. But Tillamook still feels like the little creamery that could. 

Not one to get too big for its britches, Tillamook’s long-held dedication to quality control, animal welfare and environmental impact remains as strong as ever, and the fact that it’s grown into such an industry powerhouse allows it to have even more impact and influence. A lot of that is thanks to the fact that, despite its expansion and growth, Tillamook remains a farmer-owned co-op, essentially driven by the familial farms that populate the coastal county. 

Nowadays, in addition to its collective of impassioned farmers, most of whom have been doing it for generations, Tillamook expands upon its roots by employing a Director of Environment + Community Impact, Jocelyn Bridson, and a Director of Farm Engagement, Dr. Kate Lott. The former works to reduce waste, energy and water, like cutting food waste in processing plants and transitioning delivery trucks to low-carbon fuel, all while following a Climate Action Plan to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Dr. Lott, meanwhile, is the resident veterinarian who ensures the utmost health and well-being of the dairy cows. Because not only is animal welfare a key tenet for Tillamook, but happy and healthy cows make good milk. All these efforts have paid off, too — Tillamook is now a certified B Corp, a designation given to companies that go the extra mile with environmental efforts. 

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The House Cheddar Built
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Visiting the Creamery

The behind-the-scenes husbandry is laudable enough, but in order to experience the full impact of Tillamook, you need to visit the creamery yourself. Basically the Willy Wonka factory of dairy, but with cows instead of Oompa Loompas, this place is a big deal — attracting more than 1 million annual visitors, it’s one of the top tourist destinations in all of Oregon.

Far more than a mere scoop shop or restaurant, though, the mammoth creamery is a veritable temple to cheddar, custard and all manner of milk-made innovations, dished out in a sleek food hall-type dining emporium, immersive exhibits and illuminating tours. Altogether, it’s a place that’s just as educational and illuminating as it is scream-worthy, where visitors can pair their grilled cheese with a free guided tour and a stroll through history. 

A veritable wonderland of whey, the facility was completed in 2018, designed by Seattle architects Olson-Kundig to look and feel like a super-sized barn — a posh one outfitted with cheddar-themed art installations, a buzzing viewing gallery overlooking the cheesy production and a highly detailed Farm Exhibit, which deep-dives into the earliest origins of dairy farming in the region. Outside, The Morning Star ship that originally brought butter and milk up-river to Portland in the 1800s is permanently anchored on the front lawn. 

Cheese curds are served with a spicy cheddar chili ranch
Cheese curds are served with a spicy cheddar chili ranch.

Naturally, as a creamery dedicated to all things dairy, eating is the front-and-center activity here. In addition to guided creamery tours and cheese tastings, visitors can get their fix of cheesy mainstays like grilled cheese, fried cheese curds, mac and cheese, and pizza. Far from standard, Tillamook’s adept culinary team ensures that each molten bite is of the utmost quality, flavor and texture. Said team includes Jill Allen, Director of Product Excellence in R+D, and executive chef Josh Archibald, who keep things top-notch from rind to plate.

While comfort food skews familiar, the execution is anything but. Double cheddar grilled cheese arrives on butter-slicked sourdough, which gets a schmear of kewpie mayo for added richness as it’s griddled; golden-brown cheese curds come with unexpected condiments like apple barbecue sauce and spicy cheddar chili ranch; elbow noodles are enrobed in a trio of cheeses, then dusted with herbed sourdough pretzel crumbs; and pizza options include Detroit-style pies layered with pesto, artichoke hearts and mushrooms.  

Cheese takes top billing, but ice cream isn’t second fiddle. After the dessert joined Tillamook’s lineup in 1947 under the brand name Tillamook Maid, success was swift and expansion was inevitable. Nowadays, ice cream operation here is nearly as massive as cheese, and the flavor line has ballooned to include a bevy of requisites along with seasonal rotators. For every butter pecan and cookies and cream, there’s a coffee almond fudge, an orange and cream and a marionberry pie. Made with higher butter fat content than standard ice cream, each scoop is richer and smoother than the norm. For some epic Americana, opt for a buttery and bubbling berry streusel a la mode, topped with old fashioned vanilla ice cream. 

Ice cream isn’t second fiddle at Tillamook
Ice cream isn’t second fiddle at Tillamook.

Sustainable Future

From its contemporary facility to its environmentally savvy practices and product additions, which now include everything from cream cheese spread to sour cream, Tillamook has always prized sustainability when it comes to company growth. Slow and steady, the company landed a market and cafe at Portland International Airport in 2000, followed by a second creamery in Boardman, Oregon, in 2001. To meet demand increase across the country, Tillamook is opening an ice cream plant in Decatur, Illinois, next year.

Disneyland may be the happiest place on Earth, but Tillamook Creamery is the cheesiest — and for some of us, that’s just as happy.


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