Friday, October 1, 2010

Tillamook, Oregon | "The Trees, The Cheese, The Ocean Breeze"

“Cheese, trees, and the ocean breeze.”

The quintessential motto for the city of Tillamook. It is not only appropriate, but it goes right to the heart of describing the historical background of the city’s surroundings, its geographic location, and its most popular export next to logging. Let me explain:

The Trees – After driving about an hour from Portland on Hwy 6, we stopped at the Tillamook Forest Center. We didn’t plan on staying very long, thinking that we would merely stretch our legs, rest a bit before continuing, and read a few roadside markers. Truth is, however, there was more to it … A lot more!

Open since May 2006, the Tillamook Forest Center consists of an interactive learning center, outdoor classroom facilities, a private theater, a 250-foot suspension bridge, and a 40-foot tall lookout tower that offered an endurance challenge for me and the kids. Needless to say, there was a lot of huffing-and-puffing once we got to the top.

Now, the meaning behind the Center is as varied as the trees that surround it, but its mission is as clear as the water in the Wilson River behind it: Educate visitors on the valuable ecosystem that makes up the Tillamook Forest and inspire others to maintain its natural beauty, especially given the park’s history.

You see, back in the 1930s and 40s, the entire region was nearly wiped out by what is collectively known as the Tillamook Burn, a series of fires that blackened over 550 square miles. In the decades that followed, the entire forest was restored by countless volunteers and school children who planted – by hand – over 72 million seedlings. And to account for terrain they couldn’t reach, innovative techniques and aerial drops from commercial helicopters were incorporated.

A thriving habitat now exists as well as breathtaking views at every turn. Gazing toward the hills while walking along its bridge, there was a lot about the Tillamook Forest that left us in awe. So, be sure to do as we did, and stop a moment to take a look around.

The Breeze – On the day of our visit to the Oregon Coast, temperatures in the inland areas of Portland, Oregon City, Beaverton, Woodburn, and Salem soared well into the mid- to high-90s. To put it in another way, it was downright hot. So, we were glad to be in Tillamook, especially when the ocean breeze kept conditions at a very comfortable 75 degrees.

Located between the Coastal Range Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the city of Tillamook was incorporated by the state in 1891. It is known as the gateway to some of the state’s most beautiful beaches and prominent fishing whether it’s for clams, crabs, or Chinook salmon. The city is also home to a variety of world-class museums, wildlife centers, restaurants, golf courses, campsites, and scenic adventures such as the Three Capes Drive.

But, of course, the main attraction is the Tillamook Cheese Factory, which is what brought us, and hundreds of other tourists, to the city.

The Cheese – The Tillamook Cheeese Factory traces its roots as far back as 1894, when T. S. Townsend, a prominent dairy entrepreneur, partnered with Canadian cheesemaker Peter McIntosh. Together, they would create the first successful commercial cheese plant in the area, and their reputation was solidified after one of their cheeses was awarded a top prize during the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

The key to their success was very simple from the beginning: Ally with local dairy farmers for their basic ingredients; Share their knowledge with other talented cheesemakers in the county; And remain faithful to a set of guiding principles that include “values of quality, cooperation, integrity, stewardship, and customer responsiveness.” Bottom line, it was about producing dairy products that is both nutritious and satisfying. These efforts soon led to the formation of the Tillamook County Creamery Association in 1906.

That said, visiting the factory is a true delight with a little bit of everything for everybody. After grabbing a snack at the in-house cafeteria, we embarked on the self-guided tour, which consists of wall posters and photographs that note the rich history of the facilities and the people that made it all happen and still do today.

Among our favorite stops was along the second floor, where large pane windows allowed us a look into their packaging area. Blocks of cheese whizzed by at a record pace through the various conveyor belts, wrapping machines, and quality control sensors. And watching it all happen was a dedicated group of people who seemed oblivious to the fact that we were staring down at them with our noses pressed close to the glass. That is, until we saw one of them pause for a moment to share a wave and a smile.

At the end of the tour, a cheese bar welcomed us into the visitor center's market and gift shop. Heaping bowls of diced cheese was laid out for all to sample, and included not only their award-winning cheddars, but also newer flavors such as their signature mozzarella, popular cheese curds, and three types of Jacks (Monterey, Pepper, and Colby). Next to the ice cream, the kids loved trying each cheese variety and were encouraged by the employees monitoring the line to come back for seconds and thirds.

There is certainly a great deal of tradition and pride at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and why wouldn’t there be? As it is noted throughout the factory and in their literature, "Dairy is our life, and it has been that way for over 100 years. When something is that important, you want it to be absolutely right." No need to convince us.


  1. Great post! What a beautiful place! I might have to make the trip from Cali to Oregon one day!

  2. I absolutely love Tillamook! My family owns a beach house in Rockaway and we go through and to Tillamook all of the time! I have been to the different beaches, the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and the Tillamook Forest Center many times! Great post!