Tillamook VP Kate Boltin On The Creamery's History, Ice Cream, And Popular Cheeses - Exclusive Interview

Whether you're shopping for ice cream, cheese, butter, sour cream, or yogurt, there are plenty of brand choices on grocery store shelves. One of the top brands that continues to delight consumers? None other than Tillamook, with a huge variety of dairy product options.

Tillamook, based in Tillamook, Oregon, has been making and selling delicious dairy products since 1909. Certainly, Tillamook's line of cheeses has become popular for many — but so has the company's line of more than 25 ice cream flavors. Now, the creamery is celebrating its second year hosting the Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream with actor and comedian Jenny Slate.

But what exactly is this partnership all about? What makes Tillamook ice cream so creamy? And what's the process behind aging such tasty cheese? We got the answers to those questions and so much more in an exclusive interview with Tillamook's Vice President of Brand Marketing, Kate Boltin.

Tillamook's history and farmer cooperative

Tillamook is made up of a farmer cooperative. Can you share more about what that means?

We have about 80 farmer families who make up the co-op. Of those 80, about 12 of them populate our board of directors. They provide the milk that we use to make our products. We get milk from other places as well, but primarily from our 80 farmer families. And a lot of them are multi-generational. It was their parents and their grandparents, and they've been involved in the business ever since.

And are those farmer families, for the majority, all in the Tillamook area along the Oregon coast?

They are.

Tillamook has been around since 1909. How has the brand changed and progressed over time?

We've started coining this phrase internally, that we're a 113-year-old startup in a lot of ways. For the past 100 years, we were primarily a Pacific Northwest, West Coast brand. In the past five years or so, we've started to be fairly self-reflective to say we've got something here, and we make wonderful products and we connect with the consumer in a way that a lot of brands in our space can't. About five years ago, the company launched a big initiative to intentionally grow the brand Eastward. We've been really successful on that front.

Only in the past five to 10 [years] have we started to say this is a brand that can appeal to a lot of people in the country. We've evolved quite a bit just in that short timeframe.

The meaning behind Tillamook's logo

What is the story behind the boat that's on the Tillamook logo?

Yes, The Morning Star. This is another one of my favorite bits of the iconography of our brand because it has such a rich, beautiful story. Way back when, when Tillamook County Creamery Association, which is technically our business entity name, was formed, the farmers were having a hard time getting our product back and forth over the mountain range to folks in Portland. They commissioned The Morning Star, and that was the name of the ship that — instead of going over the mountains — they put dairy on the boat and went through the river in order to get the product to Portland. 

The reason why I'm so drawn to that as an icon is because while it's a real thing that happened and is a real part of our history, the spirit of what drove the farmers to make that choice is something that we try to call back a lot with ourselves and to say, "Hey, if those guys could figure out this very real-world problem, then what's stopping us from expanding our brand Eastward?" There's such a great connection to that story and where we are as a business right now.

Tillamook's Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream

Tell us about the Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream with Jenny Slate. What's that all about?

This is year two of this initiative. Our ice cream is made with a slightly higher amount of butterfat than the industry standard requires to be considered ice cream. We believe that we have a parity of rich, creamy flavor and texture that comes with our ice cream. That's what we wanted to communicate to the consumer. In the creative ideation process, we said, "Well, what if we developed a partnership to eradicate the world of ice creams that are more filled with air?" That's how the Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream was born.

Baddie Winkle was our spokesperson last year, and she actually grew up on a dairy farm herself. She was a self-professed ice cream expert. We partnered with her to initiate the development of the Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream, whose mission is basically to share creamy ice cream and let everyone know that everyone deserves a creamier ice cream.

This year, with Jenny, we realized through discovery that she was like Baddie Winkle [and] had a really crazy obsession with Tillamook ice cream. So we thought, what better spokesperson to continue to democratize the idea of the Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream than somebody like Jenny? She has a perfectly aligned spirit and personality to who we are as a brand. We try not to take ourselves too seriously — it's cheese and ice cream, and it brings people so much joy. Jenny is a really great alignment to that intent.

So that secret to making Tillamook ice cream so creamy is the addition of extra butterfat?

Yes. Higher butterfat and less overrun, which is the equivalent of the air that gets pumped in. There is a certain percentage of overrun that you can put into your ice cream. We lower that in favor of creating more space for more butterfat, which is what gives it that creamy, really delicious mouthfeel that it has.

The most popular Tillamook ice cream flavors

How are new Tillamook ice cream flavors developed? 

We often look for white space. We also develop limited offerings in the summer, [and] in the winter, to try to tap into the seasonality of what people are looking for.

We just released butter pecan, and we used to have caramel butter pecan, which we discontinued. We heard from consumers fairly frequently that they really wanted that classic butter pecan flavor.

One thing that is near and dear to my heart in terms of the way that we choose flavor selection on our ice creams is we try to develop the very best versions of classic flavors. Caramel was maybe not such a classic element of butter pecan. So it's like, "Let's do the best version of butter pecan that we can." The same thing goes for chocolate; same thing goes for our strawberry. It's not just any strawberries — it's strawberries from right here in Oregon. That's the driving intent behind flavor development for us. It's all about creating those best versions of the classics and then having a little fun with our seasonal flavors as well.

What is the most popular Tillamook ice cream flavor?

It's so subjective. It's never any one thing. We have rolling numbers and it changes, but it's old-fashioned vanilla, cookies and cream, Oregon strawberry, and Tillamook mudslide, which is my personal favorite. It's usually some combination of those four.

How Tillamook ages its cheese

Let's talk cheese. What does the cheddar aging process look like? 

We have some stirred curd cheeses, so Colby Jack and things like that are aged differently. But if you think about our naturally aged cheese, everything comes off the line in 40-pound blocks that we lovingly have started to call the mother loaf. We have two-pound blocks, which are the baby loaves, but everything, at least on the cheddar side of things, starts from this 40-pound block and goes into aging.

The reason why we age our cheese in 40-pound blocks versus 640-pound blocks, which is what most people do, is because it gives us more control over the quality of what comes off that block. That's the crux of the process. Then it gets packaged up and warehoused. Depending on the sharpness of the cheddar, it's pulled out at the respective amount of time — so extra sharp obviously ages the longest amount of time. Then you go all the way into Maker's Reserve, which is our super-premium cheese. Some of those, at least our oldest vintage that's currently still on the market, is a 2010. It's very sharp and super crumbly. My daughter calls it "crystal cheese."

The Tillamook cheese that sells the most

What type of Tillamook cheese is sold the most?

It's cheddar, hands down. Different parts of the country prefer different sharpnesses. East Coast consumers prefer sharper cheddar, whereas [with] West Coast consumers, we sell more medium. West Coast consumers prefer a more mild cheddar than East Coast consumers, where we sell a lot more sharp and extra sharp.

What's the secret to storing Tillamook cheese at home?

Once you get it wrapped up nice and tight — it's almost like it's a double wrap — put it in the furthest, darkest corner of your fridge. If you pick up a two-pound baby loaf and you're like, "Oh, I'm never going to eat all this," cut off the half that you want to consume for whatever meal you're making, wrap it up tight, seal it, try to keep it as free of air exposure as you can, and put it in the deepest, darkest spot of your fridge that's not constantly being moved back and forth to get out your cream cheese or pull your milk out from the back.

Tillamook's typical demographic

What is the typical demographic of a Tillamook lover, whether that's cheese or ice cream or butter?

We've referred to them as the "foodthusiast," and it's more of an ideological demographic. We, of course, have target audiences for our shoppers, [and] we group different types of shoppers in different ways. But the ideological muse that we focus on is the foodthusiast. It's that person who does the extra click. They're not going to settle for store-bought cold tortillas. They're going to use their grandmother's three-generation-old recipe to make those tortillas. 

What we try to communicate to that person is we do that as a business as well when it comes to the development of our products. We don't take shortcuts. We make really thoughtful, intentional choices in terms of what goes into the quality of the products we make. And we believe that resonates with the foodthusiasts because they themselves go that little extra mile. I also like to say this is the person who is chopping parsley at home just to add a little bit of something because it makes that experience with their food so much more meaningful.

Visiting the Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook, Oregon

The visitor center creamery opened in 2018. What can people expect when they're visiting the creamery?

When the visitor center was first open, it was a "come look at our factory" thing, and then you can take a couple [of] samples away. Then, in the '80s, they put in a true visitor center, but it was not immediately connected to the production facility. In 2018, when we came out with the version that we have today, the spirit of that was truly blending both worlds of where we had been and creating an experience for people to understand the end-to-end process of what it [takes] to get you your cheese and ice cream as one story we want to share with folks.

The other story is that this is a real brand from a real place with real people who have made it. It's not just something that you can grab from the shelf. The space is really rich. It's equal parts industrial and warm wood tones. You can go in and you can have lunch, you can have breakfast there, you can get your scoops of ice cream. And yes, it's designed for families who are already involved in agritourism in the Pacific Northwest, to provide them a place to come and learn something new and different about this region that has, of late, become synonymous with the coast and wine and those kinds of things. It's a very special place.

It is amazing how much of a tourist attraction it has become. Every time I hear the stat — it's the second most-visited place in Oregon behind Crater Lake — it boggles my mind. Bringing it back to the Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream campaign, we recognize that. As part of our storytelling, the creamery is the headquarters of the Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream. As part of our integrated campaign, we are giving away a trip to come and see us, because we think that is so critical for people to understand who we are as a company, as a brand, to see where we come from. The opportunity to interact with people in a way that's real is priceless. 

Follow along with Jenny Slate and Tillamook on Instagram as they host the Partnership for Creamier Ice Cream.