The Untold Truth Of Tillamook

Known to most consumers as a lovable loaf of orange cheddar, the Tillamook brand has made a name for itself as the great Northwest's titan of dairy. A national brand from Oregon, this rich cheese with the ship on the label delivers a flavorful history.

From its humble start as a tiny farming cooperative, the Tillamook brand has served tastes for over 100 years, and served them with quality. A company that's proudly filler-free, packing flavor and texture to the savory limits of the human palate. When lesser dairies take shortcuts on quality, Tillamook doubles-down. That's been their directive since day one. A directive that's driven their product to celebrity status in your dairy aisle.

Tillamook's creamy history tells a story of success from humble beginnings. Beginning in Tillamook County, when a small group of dairy farmers from the dewy valleys of Oregon joined forces in 1909, and soon became a force of their own.

Tillamook is a dairy cooperative spanning over 100 farms

Tillamook's top-shelf curd is the product of the Tillamook County Creamery Association. A dairy cooperative that today is the largest employer in Tillamook County, an economic engine empowering nearly 900 people in the craft of fine dairy.

Years of small-time dairy farming offered decent yields, but it wasn't until local dairy farmers formed a cooperative in 1909, when Tillamook truly entered their stride. The Tillamook County Creamery Association's catalyzing event started simply. The inaugural cooperative welcomed 10 independent dairy farmers. All they had to pay was a $10 entry fee, and from there they combined their resources to change cheese-making history.

Today that co-op belongs to 80 farmer-owners, and has propelled the Tillamook County Creamery Association into a top-50 American cheesemaker. Tillamook's commitment to quality and teamwork also shows up in their long-standing record of integrity, as the cooperative has held a constant commitment to stewardship — both to the Tillamook County community and to their customers.

Tillamook dairy farmers built a ship

Before the cooperative could take off, the Tillamook County dairy farmers first had to solve their distribution woes. Prior to the advent of refrigerated cars, time was a factor in transporting perishable dairy. And given the obvious lack of freeway infrastructure, the fastest route to Oregon's biggest city, Portland, was via water. So the people of Tillamook County came up with a plan: Build a ship. Specifically, a schooner that was dubbed "The Morning Star."

The ship-build was a success and ironically enough The Morning Star became the first ship built in Tillamook County and registered in Oregon. The vessel's name was originally derived from the belief that this ship would dawn a new day upon Tillamook County. A prophecy that held true, as the outline of this iconic vessel serves as the logo Tillamook uses on their offerings today.

This ship is such a staple of Tillamook's history, for both the brand and the county, that a full-size replica of the schooner sits on display at the Tillamook Creamery's main factory.

"The Cheese King of the Coast" taught Tillamook his cheddar-making methods

The richly specific taste of Tillamook traces back to a serendipitous partnership with a genius cheese artist. When Canadian cheesemaker Peter McIntosh migrated to Tillamook County, he brought an artisanal arsenal of cheese-crafting knowledge with him, according to Oregon Live. Having operated a dairy factory in Ontario, Canada, McIntosh had consistently refined a promising cheddar formula, and all he needed was a chance to prove his prowess. McIntosh wanted a cheesemaking plant of his own. Luckily for the lactose tolerant, Tillamook gave him that opportunity.

In 1894, McIntosh was hired to operate Tillamook County's first commercial cheese plant. He taught Tillamook dairy farmers everything he knew, and in 1909, The Tillamook County Dairy Cooperative rewarded McIntosh's ingenuity, incorporating his popular cheesemaking formula as their formulaic standard. A repeatable and winning recipe that is still a part of Tillamook's winning tradition today. And all thanks to "The Cheese King of The Coast" spreading his gospel of cheese throughout the fertile Tillamook valleys.

A Tillamook cheese won first place at the 1904 World's Fair

If Tillamook County dairy farmers were committed enough to build Oregon's first ship, and actually sail it, imagine how great their cheese could be?

The world didn't wait long for that answer, as Tillamook County's first big culinary victory came at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Ten years into McIntosh's influence, it showed early proof positive that his formula scaled to success. A harbinger event that paved the way to McIntosh's work and Tillamook's merging as one.

This event also paved the way to Tillamook becoming a full cooperative. As their products continued to improve and expand, working together with other dairy farmers became both lucrative and essential. McIntosh's cheese-making methods would continue to dominate the competition, and Tillamook County would continue to expand it's dairy-making success. The 1904 World's Fair was a huge victory — but Tillamook County wasn't done yet.

Tillamook's mild cheddar won the 2010 World Cheese Championship

Cheese does not get taken lightly in Wisconsin, a state where cheese is major-league. Cooking a cheese curd wrong could get you ostracized. So for all intents and purposes, if your cheese can win here, it can win anywhere.

And that's what Tillamook did. Having established themselves in the American Northwest as committed to quality, it was only a matter of time before Tillamook's premium product won recognition in America's Dairyland. In 2010, their mild cheddar obliterated the competition, scoring 99.6 out of 100 points at the World Cheese Championship in Wisconsin. A shot across the bow that rocked the cheese-tasting world.

Not only did Tillamook wrest the championship belt from the cheese-obsessed Midwest, their mild-cheddar variety bested all 59 competitors in the category. Far from a mild showing by a cheese that excelled to just four-tenths of a point shy of perfection.

Meet Tillie: Tillamook's former "Spokescow"

Yellow rubber duckies have always been popular with the little ones, but what about yellow rubber cows? Although nowhere near as amphibious, Tillamook's squeaky toy cow "Tillie" was a fan favorite from day one, eventually bordering on cult sensation. This friendly cow with the sweeping joyful smile captured mascot status and held that mantle for over 50 years. Bringing joy to children as a toy, and joy to adults as a collector's item. 

Now discontinued as their solo brand ambassador, the original "Tillie of Tillamook" rubber squeak toy remains a lucrative antique at online auctions and Pinterest boards. Original Tillies fetch far over their original prices, with mint condition Tillies still housed in their rustic farmland packaging. Periodically, newer editions of Tillie are on sale at the Tillamook factory, making the Tillamook County Creamery headquarters not just an enticing tourist attraction, but one to keep tabs on for Tillie.

Tillamook once toured the country in cheese-orange VW vans

Peace. Love. Cheese? In the summer of 2010, all three were on offer as the "Love Loaf Tour" hit over 100 U.S. cities in a fleet of cheddar-orange Volkswagen mini buses. Crisscrossing the country in a motorized facsimile of Tillamook's "Baby Loaf" variety of cheddar.

Spreading the message of love through their love of dairy, Tillamook commemorated their 100th anniversary by slinging free samples and coupons to supermarkets and outdoor displays wherever their cheese-loafs-on-wheels roamed. The vivid stunt was a huge success, and led to Tillamook rolling out more evocative and innovative ad campaigns.

As a follow-up, Tillamook launched their "Dairy Done Right" campaign in 2015, where they published a series of scintillating photos of melted cheeses on hot food. Doubling-down on their support of dairy farmers in the messaging of Dairy Done Right. Promoting real food from local farmers, backed by the cheese that tops them.

Tillamook never uses corn syrup or artificial preservatives

Tillamook has stood for quality since they could stand on their own. And since their inception they've refused to take shortcuts to keep up with the cheesemaking Joneses. As a matter of pride, Tillamook has always aged their cheddar naturally for as long as it takes to achieve their standard; from three months to as long as five years in some cases. And as a matter of taste, they've literally added extra cream to their ice cream, instead of succumbing to the industry standard of adding extra sugar and filler. 

To anyone who's tasted the creamier difference, the difference is obvious. Every rich variety of Tillamook dairy packs that penchant for quality. Every bite providing a taste that is genuine. At Tillamook, no matter if it's sour cream, cheese, ice cream, or yogurt, the cream truly rises to the top, as always. 

Tillamook donated $1.6 million to struggling farmers

Tillamook's integrity remains self-evident and far-reaching. In 2020, when many farmers hit the skids due to pandemic-related shortfalls, Tillamook stepped up. They vowed to contribute 10% of their September profits to their aid.

All-in-all Tillamook donated $1.6 million to the American Farmland Trust — a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting farmland and keeping farmers on their land. In addition to this generous contribution, Tillamook further committed $100k to restaurant chefs whose businesses were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This should come as no surprise. Since their inception, the Tillamook County Creamery Association has made stewardship a top priority. Today, the Tillamook co-op publicly lists their top-six stewardship commitments proudly. Committing to thriving farms, healthful cows, inspired consumers, enduring ecosystems, fulfilled employees, and enriched communities.

Through ad campaigns, donations, and a commitment to consistent quality, Tillamook continues to uphold these bold virtues and deliver on their promises.

Tillamook's factory warehouse can age 50 million pounds of cheese at once

As a top-50 dairy provider in America, the Tillamook Creamery is capable of flexing some solid infrastructure. Boasting factories that are able to produce 167,000 pounds of cheese every day, amounting to over one million pounds per week. But likely more fascinating is Tillamook's resources for storing and aging that cheese:

Within a single massive warehouse, Tillamook can age 50 million pounds of cheese at a single time. A number barely comprehensible, yet a reality that has allowed Tillamook to enjoy life atop dairy's top shelf from coast-to-coast. The warehouse itself so massive and magnificent, it's become a tourist attraction all by itself.

Since innovating into three-tier cheese storage in 1949, Tillamook has consistently made room for their product in clever ways. Constantly improving their thresholds to astonishing cheese-storing capacity. Their expanded storage allowing for an expanded imprint, allowing Tillamook to become the national brand we're fond of today.

The Tillamook Creamery attracts over one million tourists per year

Not only are tourists awed by Tillamook's mind-boggling cheese-producing capacity, they're also taken behind the curtain and shown how it's all made possible. 

Each year, nearly 1 million people pass through the creamery on self-guided tours, witnessing the magic of how Tillamook's impeccable products are formed, processed, and packaged. Tourists even learn about the secret ingredient that gives Tillamook cheddar its distinctive orange hue as they step through the company's history. The self-guided tours of Tillamook Creamery allow you to explore the bounds of their barn-like factory. Allowing you to take in Tillamook's epic tale at your own pace within their epic factory, before stopping off for something delicious that's fresh off the line — such as ice cream!

As a tour of their ice-cream making process is also available, and if you ask the kids, it may be Tillamook County Creamery's number-one attraction.