I don't know if you remember those mini-features they used to run on Sesame Street...this is going WAY back, I know....they would go to factories and manufacturing facilities and show how something was made. I remember the saxophone factory in particular - it was so cool to see the metal being poured, the pieces coming together and the finished product, all shiny and new. (Check out this Sesame Street clip of a crayon factory. Awesome!) I am still fascinated by how things are made, and that's why I love factory tours of all kinds. Now that I'm older and so sophisticated and into cheese, the cheese factory tour is sort of the best of all possible worlds.
Oregonians are used to stopping at the Tillamook Cheese Visitor's Center while driving up and down the coast....everyone and their brother and their sister have probably done the tour at least once. Because Tillamook is so well known in the Northwest and has been around so long, it's pretty much the default gold standard for cheese factory tours. But there's also a cheese plant in Sunnyside, Washington (about an hour east of the Tri-Cities) operated by Washington dairy giant Darigold.
Dairy Fair is organized very much like Tillamook; there's a self-guided tour (with accompanying closed loop video), gift shop, and plenty of fresh cheese curds to sample and buy. The view of the cheesemaking floor, such as it is, is not terribly action packed because the fun happens inside giant vats and the Cheddarmaster - the ingenious contraption which automates the cutting and stacking of curd that's so integral to making cheddar cheese. Nevertheless, the sheer scale of the operation is impressive: it makes 170 million pounds of cheese a year. Well worth a stop if you're in the area, fun for kids and adults.
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Darigold Dairy Fair 400 Alexander Rd. Sunnyside, WA 98944 509-837-4321 Open Daily