Tillamook Creamery Adventure
When you're driving up the 101 through Oregon towards Astoria you'll come through a town called Tillamook. A nice little area filled with a lot of scenic views and a few places to stop and see, but for us it was the Tillamook Creamery that we had our eyes set on. We passed it when we left Seaside headed up to Ft. Stevens for our next National Park adventure and didn't really want to stop (in hindsight, we should have as it was not busy during the week) then but just wanted to get to our campground. While driving Jennie looked it up and found some reviews about how it was a tourist trap and over priced so we kinda wrote it off as a not needed visit. That was until she found someone in our Fulltime Families group that said it was the "creamiest ice cream" they had ever had that changed our mind. If you know me (or are getting to now) I have a "slight" ice cream addiction. So we set out the next day to check it out.
When you get here, it is one large building right along the road with the Tillamook Sailboat (Morning Star) right out front. There is a nice green lawn through the front that they happily welcome and allow dogs to be on and sit with the families. There were a lot of fur babies that day and thankfully, Jennie didn't sneak off with one. As you walk in the front door, you're greeted with a market and gift shop on your right, a staircase leading upstairs for the self guided tour and cheese sampling, and straight ahead is the restaurant & Ice Cream area.
We started off with a tour of the main building. You go up the stairs and come to the farm exhibit where they explain and show how they raise the calfs. Very educational for someone whose never been to a dairy farm (yeah, that’d be me) to see how it works. Then they have a fake cow with a milking system for people to try and see how it works. Its even on a timer for a little friendly competition. A group of young men were definitely having fun with each other as they tried. Next is an informational video about how they do the milking and all the processing. The cows can either get milked by the team or go through a line on their own to get milked (that was a pretty smart idea whoever came up with it). They actually have a robotic milker that cleans the teats and puts the suction system in place. Each cow per trip produces 7-11 gallons of milk in the 6 minutes they are on the station and some are milked several times a day.
Next we walked down the viewing gallery and they have windows into the cheese making floor where you can watch the entire process while reading about everything they are doing. One interesting tidbit I picked up was the “curds & whey” separation. Back in the old days, they apparently dumped the whey down the drain. Now with the physical fitness world thriving on whey protein, they sell it. Brilliant! Why I never thought that’s how it worked I’ll never know but learning occurred! You get to see all of the vats and the systems they use through the process of making the cheese. Sadly, we were there on a Sunday so only a handful of workers were on hand for us to watch how it's done.
We then passed the area where they cut the cheese (my inner 6 year old is laughing, you’re laughing too so shut it!) into blocks for aging and then run them on the belt system to the storage area. When aged blocks come out from storage, they are inspected and then further cut or packaged for delivery. I know this sounds way too simple, but honestly it really looks like it. They have perfected the process and really did a whole lean set up to get this done. The tour ends with a chance to sample all of the cheese they make. I know it’s a cardinal sin that we skipped it as the line was crazy (Memorial Day weekend and the first sunny day in over a week in Oregon and we had already eaten lunch).
Now that the tour stuff is out of the way, let's talk about the important stuff: FOOD. Wow is a good word to use when I looked at the menu as there were a lot of options. We were in the cattle corral (fitting actually) you pass by the team making orders fresh. First you pass the pizza oven where the smell and sight will get you thinking that you need to add pizza to your order (I'll have to do that next time). Then you pass the pass out window for all the food where you get to see the items headed out to their new families to be devoured. This all before you get to give your order to a young lad/lady that is very nice and happy to assist. Seriously, the staff is great here as they were all very nice to talk with and had great attitudes with the crazy amount of people there that day. After you order, they give you a locator and will deliver your food to your table inside or outside. You then head around the corner to the soda station and they have Stubborn Soda on tap. I've never had nor heard of them before that day and I'm glad that they are there because its shockingly good soda! Finally, you head off to find a seat at the monster tables they have set up both inside and outside and wait while basking in delicious food smelling happy land.
We ordered an appetizer of fried cheese curds, Jennie ordered a grilled cheese with fries, Abby had a Mac-N-Cheese (SHOCKER....not really) bowl, and I ordered a tuna club sandwich. Now before you judge me on that tuna, I have to be careful with the amount of dairy I have so I figured it was a safer option. Plus, it was sourced with local fish from the area so at least I wasn't eating the canned stuff (I think). Jennie said that the grilled cheese was very good and done right. Abby loved her mac-n-cheese bowl to a point that she was willing to lick the bowl. My sandwich was pretty good and the added bacon and cheese was nice. But the white cheddar cheese curds....I don't wanna put OMG on my blog, yet here we are. OMG these things are amazing. Imagine these little cheese sticks that are shaped funny, tossed in a light batter, and then FRIED to a golden perfection. Each bite was a gooey, cheesy, flavor bomb of happiness. The accompanied sriracha ranch sauce was just a little extra yum added to this. I enjoyed eating so much I failed to take pictures. I'm sorry.
We walked off our food (or maybe a bite of it) by doing the tour and going through the shop. They sell all of the Tillamook brand items and the mementos you'd want to take home. We picked up the RV sticker and headed off to get the ice cream. Oh, they did have the cheese curds for sale there too. Sadly, they were priced a bit too high ($7.00 a small bag, REALLY?!) so we passed on them. We then headed to the pièce de résistance of this trip. The Ice Cream station (click the link, scroll down to Ice Cream Menu). There is more ice cream there than there is on the menu so don't be shocked when this happens. They will happily serve you samples before you make your final decision (I may have sampled their whiskey flavor, yeah it was too good). Abby went with cookie dough and I went with cookies & cream. Final verdict, YES it was one of the creamiest ice creams I have had to date and worth the drive down alone.
In closing, we had a great time there. The crowd was a bit more than we like for sure but that's just the nature of a good place. If you're ever driving up the 101 and come through Tillamook, you better stop in and try it. You will seriously be missing something special if you don't.