Sing along with me if you remember the old ditty about turning grapes into raisins...
You start with the grass,
under the sun (Homefacts web site lists only 55 completely sunny days each year in Tillamook)
Let out the cows, (there are about 26,150 cows in Tillamook County and only 4,942 people)
One by one.
Do you remember hearing about Tillamook cheese years ago? I do. I remember hearing that the cheese was rich and creamy and simply fantastic, but it wasn't available in our area of the country. Those were the days when you couldn't get everything, everywhere, like you can today. Sometimes I wish our country was still a place where one could find unique goods only in specific areas. For example, Vidalia Onions could only be found near the Georgia town known for this particular sweet onion; or Coors beer could only be found in the west… and Tillamook Cheese could be enjoyed by those fortunate enough to be traveling along the west coast. How much more treasured and appreciated would these items be? But, on the other hand, how lucky we are that we all can find Tillamook cheese in just about every grocery store, just down the aisle from Coors beer, which is around the corner from the Vidalia onions! But, I digress….
Over 1 million visitors make the trek to the factory to see the process of packaging the cheese from upstairs viewing stations. (Tours of the processing area were discontinued in 1967 due to health and safety concerns.)
Here are a few views from the observation area. I apologize for the odd color created by the glass.
Here you can see three of the 8 vats where milk is made into cheese. Each vat holds 53,500 pounds of fresh milk. Three batches of cheese are made each day.
It takes10 pounds of milk for each pound of finished cheese. Here is my Math question for the week.... If more than 1.7 million pounds of milk is processed at the plant each day, how many pounds of cheese are processed? The answer, a lot!
This row of machines presses the newly made cheese into 40-pound blocks, and drops them on the conveyor belt.
The blocks are wrapped in plastic, and go up the spiral chute and into an area for aging. Blocks will be aged up to 9 months, depending on the sort of cheese.
In another area of the plant, the 40 pound blocks of cheese come in on a conveyor after they have been through the appropriate-length aging process.
Wow! That's a lot of cheese!
The cheese is cut by hot wires, and the blocks are separated by workers. The worker on the lower right collects scraps in the bin. The workers on the left place the one pound blocks on rollers.
Each block of cheese is weighed. If the block is underweight or overweight, it is shuttled to one side. The single block on the lower edge does not weigh enough. The worker will reach over and place a slice of cheese on its top, and move it back into line.
The blocks continue down the line where plastic wrap is placed around the cheese, sealed and cut (I think with a hot wire) and later will be processed (either by heat or suction) so the wrapper tightens around the cheese.
The worker on the lower left of the picture will occasionally place blocks of cheese with poorly shaped or dirty wrappers in the blue bin.
At this point the blocks of cheese moved on, and out of sight, to an area where it is packaged in cardboard boxes for shipping.
We moved on… to the tasting line!
And then, enjoyed some ice cream…
another specialty of the plant.