A lot happened over the last week. In a nutshell: Sidekick went on his first airplane, we went on a Tillamook Tour, I discovered wine in a CAN (say what now?!), we ate a lot of cheese and we pet some cows.
You know we love us some cows.
The Tillamook Tour
When our favorite cheese company invited us up to Oregon for a Tillamook Tour, it took about point-two seconds for us to be like, “Oh hells yeah!” followed by the obligatory, “Cheeeeeese, Gromit!” There might have even been a little hand-clap wiggle circular shuffle action going on over here. If you've ever seen me excited in person, you know what I'm talking about. I just can't help the awkward celebrations.
The factory tour itself is awesome (it gets 1 million visitors per year!), and our group was privy to some behind-the-scenes looks at the true depth of effort that goes into making award-winning cheese and dairy products. Most of the 99 Tillamook farmers are 3rd and 4th generation, and they are all personally invested in the company with a passion for making sure everything is done right. There's a team of six culinary experts who taste-test one out of every sixty blocks of cheese for quality assurance. Compare that to most operations that test one out of every batch or even one block daily, and they've got a serious operation going on here. On the Tillamook tour we were impressed to see that they don't keep giant silos on site like most factories, as the milk goes from farm to cheese in a single day. Tillamook cheese is primarily made with Holstein and Jersey cows for a unique, creamy balance. Holsteins produce more in terms of volume, but Jerseys put out a higher fat, creamier milk.
We got to meet with one of the farming families and it made such a huge impression to hear about the day-to-day details of how they live. I spoke in depth with the farmer's wife, and she shared that her husband gets up at 2:30am to start milking the cows, cleaning, doing general maintenance and acting as the on-site vet. They switch off periodically and she spends evenings in the barn, with each typically working an 18-hour day. In addition to the hard labor, they deal with a TON of bookkeeping. The cost of grain has been driven up dramatically in recent years by ethanol and drought and at this point, 53% of their gross profit goes directly to grain. When I asked why the family perseveres and doesn't simply walk away, she said that she wants to set an example of this lifestyle for her children, so they'll grow up and understand the value of hard work.
I know you're still wondering about that wine in a can, so I'll just make a weird segway here to share that. One of our events featured Union Wine as a host and we got a sneak peek of their latest product. This should be coming to a grocery store near you hopefully in the next year or so. Fingers crossed. Breath held. Wine glasses rubbed for luck.
If you haven't yet been to the factory for a Tillamook tour, go! Make a trip of it. Yes, this was our second time there. We've visited once before totally of our own volition. I wasn't lying when I said we really, really like the cheese! And the ice cream. And the yogurt…Nate and I both grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so Tillamook has a truly special place in our hearts. Much like our beloved Tree Top. Farmer-owned cooperatives are an incredibly unique type of business, and their operations fascinate us. They're like the unsung, unofficial Fair Trade Association of America, in my opinion.
Word to the farmers, yo. You guys rock our socks.