True confessions: I’m a nerd. When I travel, I actually enjoy checking out museums and learning new stuff. The more obscure and specialized the museum, the more I delight in it. I once drove miles out of my way to check out a barbed wire museum, only to discover that that was the one day a week that it was closed. I was crushed. I also want to visit the largest ball of paint someday, but I can’t imagine why I’d ever find myself anywhere near Alexandria, Indiana.
So when we realized that we’d be driving through Tillamook, Oregon on our most recent vacation, my first thought was, “Because… cheese.”
You folks out on the east coast do not know what you’re missing. Here in the Pacific Northwest, you can’t go into a grocery store without tripping over a Tillamook product. Ice cream. Yogurt. Cheese. Tillamook is dairy nirvana, as far as I’m concerned.
It is said that there are about 22,000 cows in Tillamook County, which is almost one cow for every human being. So it stands to reason that these folks would create a cooperative, and Tillamook Creamery is the result. (I get a little chuckle when I think that such a socialist idea came from such a Trump loving enclave, but hey, I’m not complaining about the juxtaposition. Anything that results in cheese is a great idea.)
The coolest part about this is that you can tour the creamery. They get about a million visitors a year. I’m convinced that the bulk of them were present on the day we went. But you know, I’m willing to go through quite a bit for free cheese samples.
For health and safety reasons, you aren’t allowed out on the actual production floor, of course, but you can view it from above, and there are helpful signs that explain exactly what you’re seeing. I was practically hypnotized while watching the huge blocks of cheese get cut into smaller ones, and seeing the workers add or remove a slice to make sure that each package weighed the same.
What a tedious job. I think I’d lose my mind. But they’d occasionally look up and smile and wave at us. I wonder if that’s voluntary, or if they’re the dairy equivalent of puppets on strings. I hope they’re paid well. They sure do put out a wonderful product, but they have to stand on their feet all day to do it. I’ll never take my cheese for granted again.
And then there’s the cafeteria, where you can get grilled cheese sandwiches and pizza, among many other things. Yes, please. And did I forget to mention ice cream? All their wonderful flavors, and a few you can’t get in grocery stores, such as blood orange, which was heavenly.
The store had all manner of cow-related kitsch, as well as Tillamook cheese curds, which you can’t find anywhere else. A friend of ours calls it squeaky cheese and is therefore turned off by it. I just think it’s marvelous.
So yeah, I spent several hours of my vacation touring a cheese factory. And I had a wonderful time. That’s just how I roll.