Long before visiting the Oregon town of Tillamook, Hubby and I were familiar with the town’s prize-winning claim to fame, and that was their cheese. Sure, quality matters and when it comes to quality cheeses, Tillamook ranks high in my book. But it’s more than just their cheese that has won my loyalty, it’s their grounded approach to business. Come see what I mean.
Tillamook – Home of the Cheese
The first European settlers arrived in Tillamook Valley in 1851. To these first settlers, raising dairy cows made perfect sense. All the rain in the valley, with its wet, cool climate, made for the greenest of grasses. Green grass means plenty of good feed for happy dairy cows. It was true then, and it’s still true today.
The Tillamook farmers had butter and milk to sell, but hauling their product to market over the rough mountain roads took time. Time led to spoilage, something these farmers could not afford. The fastest route to Portland’s market was by water. In 1854, these farmers built Oregon’s first official ship; the Morning Star.
By 1909; several small creameries joined forces to ensure that all the cheese made in the Tillamook Valley met the same high standard of quality. By 1921; sales of Tillamook skyrocketed and the demand grew in Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1947; Tillamook expanded operations to include Ice Cream. By 1958; their cheese was winning awards in state, national and world competitions. The line of Tillamook products continued to grow; with Sour Cream and Yogurts added in the 1990s. What sets Tillamook apart; and continues to be the driving force behind them is that theirs is not a giant corporation. It’s a Co-Op. The farmers are the company. Theirs truly is a farm to table operation.
Tillamook is smart in their marketing. Their plant in Tillamook is open to the public to tour. It is amazing how many people stop by each day. Get there early if you want to find a place to park. And be prepared for long lines that rival Disneyland!
At the end of the tour, there are plenty of free samples. Once you’ve had your fill of the free stuff, the tour ends in their massive store. You can get everything from cheeses to wines to clothing.
No tour of the processing plant would be complete without a visit to their cafeteria. Everything is made with Tillamook cheese. Even their tomato soup included cheese curds. It’s what makes the soup so darn creamy. (And I’m working on a recipe as we speak).
This quiet dairy town along the Oregon central coast has a direct connection to World War II in a most interesting way. We really don’t think much about blimps with the exception of the Hindenburg and great aerial shots during the Super Bowl.
Tillamook – Air Museum
Tillamook also is home to the largest free-standing, clear-span wooden structure in the world, covering more than 7 acres. Commissioned and built by the Navy in 1943; Hangers A and B were designed to house blimps for anti-submarine convoy escorts and patrols during the war. These hangers were built entirely from wood due to the shortage of metals during World War II. The Tillamook Station was charged with watching over the ports of Oregon, Washington and the shipping lanes from California to the San Juan Islands. The two hangers were built in record time, completed in 27 days.
Unfortunately, a fire in 1992 destroyed Hanger A. The wooden structure went up like a tinder box and there was little to be done to save it.
That same year, the Air Museum was established as a small blimp museum. By 1996; Hanger B had acquired one of the finest collections of operational vintage World War I and II aircraft anywhere.
If you ever make it to Tillamook Oregon, the Air Museum is not to be missed. There is a lot to see. While the Museum looks a little hokey, it’s really very fantasying. There are no time constraints and you are free to wander at your own pace.
We’ve filled our stomachs and our minds with a visit to Tillamook. The day is catching up with us, and we still have miles more to go before reaching Depoe Bay.