2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Tillamook County Creamery Association, and the Creamery will hold the first of many celebrations this Friday February 6th from 10am-4pm at the Visitors Center in Tillamook, Oregon. The history of Tillamook Cheese is a fascinating tale of nineteenth century European immigrants making their way to the Oregon coast in search of cheap inhabitable land not already taken by folks coming through on the Oregon Trail. Soon enough, they discovered that the damp coastal marine climate in the area around Tillamook, Oregon was just that - damp and flood prone and not at all conducive to growing crops. On the plus side, the mild weather lent itself to good grass for grazing, and so dairy became the settlers' salvation, and later their claim to fame. But what to do with all of that milk? The Coast Mountain Range made it difficult to transport milk to Portland, the closest population of any size, and so came the idea to preserve milk in the form of cheese. At one time the northern Oregon coast was home to literally dozens of small creameries, all of which processed the local milk and made their own cheeses (just imagine all of that artisan cheese!). Over time, the various creameries closed and/or consolidated, evolving eventually into what we now know as Tillamook County Creamery Association, formed in 1909.
Things have changed since the early days, for sure. Tillamook has grown to a decidedly industrial sized operation that makes over 150 million pounds of cheese per year at two plants - one in Tillamook and one in the Eastern Oregon town of Boardman. Though the years have not passed without controversy, I think it's fair to say that Tillamook emerges in its 100th year as a beloved Oregon institution. Many, many Oregonians will wax poetic over the memory of sampling squeaky cheese curds at the Tillamook factory on childhood trips...it's just that kind of place.
The 100th Anniversary Celebration festivities this Friday include the release of several special products: a 100th anniversary cheddar, a special wheel aged three years (the regular Vintage White Cheddar is aged just two years) as well as special anniversary flavors of ice cream and fudge. Additional activities include lots of cheese sampling, photo ops with Tillie the Cow, and other festive events throughout the day. And if you can't make it on Friday, Tillamook will hold other anniversary events throughout the year - see the Tillamook Fan Club site here for info and dates.