Til­lam­ook cheese

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - NEWS -

Years ago, I saw a movie about a woman who wrote for a news­pa­per. She ran out of ideas, so she be­gan writ­ing about dif­fer­ent uses of cheese. Af­ter five weeks, the edi­tor called her into his of­fice. When the writer re­vealed what amounted to burnout or loss of imag­i­na­tion, the edi­tor blurted out: “You’re a good writer — write about any­thing. But no more cheese, lady!”

That was the best line in the movie.

How­ever, since I haven’t writ­ten about that use of milk, since Carol and I are in the town of Til­lam­ook, Ore­gon, and since I re­ally like cheese, I de­cided it was time to write about it. I hope my edi­tor ap­proves.

Til­lam­ook is a Na­tive Amer­i­can tribal name, but that’s another story.

Mankind has been mak­ing cheese for more than 4,000 years, and I read that there are 1,831 kinds of cheese. Cheese is clas­si­fied by ge­o­graphic origin, what an­i­mal gave the milk, the an­i­mal’s diet, age of cheese, tex­ture, added in­gre­di­ents, but­ter­fat con­tent, a lot more, and by com­bi­na­tions of all the above. Most milk used in cheese pro­duc­tion is from cows; but cheese is also made of milk from goats, camels, sheep, yaks, buf­falo and even rein­deer. I won­der if any­one tried gi­raffe milk.

Til­lam­ook is my fa­vorite brand of cheese, and Colby Jack (mar­bled yel­low and white) is my fa­vorite kind. Don’t ever con­fuse Colby Jack with Pep­per Jack. That stuff is hot! (Maybe my edi­tor would like it.)

The Til­lam­ook Cheese Fac­tory is a dairy co­op­er­a­tive that was founded in 1909. My first visit was in the sum­mer of 1991 with Carol and the younger two kids (Re­becca and Michael), and this is my third visit. More than a mil­lion peo­ple a year must have the same taste for cheese as I do, so Til­lam­ook Cheese Fac­tory built a new vis­i­tor cen­ter, up­dated its name to Til­lam­ook Cream­ery, and added a food court.

There is no ad­mis­sion price. You walk in and en­joy the mo­ment, and en­joy all the free cheese sam­ples.

So, how is cheese made? If you al­ready know, skip the next four para­graphs.

Milk is poured into a vat, and an enzyme, ren­net, is added to co­ag­u­late it. But juice from fruit, fig leaves, mel­ons, saf­flower, vine­gar, lemons, and other veg­e­ta­tion can be added in­stead. This causes the milk to cur­dle and sep­a­rate from the liq­uid whey. Til­lam­ook’s vats hold 53,500 pounds (about 6,220 gal­lons) of fresh milk. The milk is stirred; and as the curds and whey sep­a­rate, the whey is drained into another con­tainer while the curds be­gin to stick or knit to­gether. This is called ched­dar­ing.

Ten pounds of cow milk will pro­duce 1 pound of cheese, while 6 pounds of sheep milk will pro­duce a pound of cheese be­cause of its much higher fat con­tent. Goat cheese pro­duc­tion is sim­i­lar to cows.

I hope this isn’t bor­ing you. The whole process fas­ci­nates me.

The curds are chopped, cut, and pressed to re­lease more liq­uid. Then the cheese curds are poured into a square col­umn and com­pres­sion slowly in­creases. When pres­sure reaches 800 pounds, it is held for two min­utes then cut into 40-pound blocks. They are stored and aged from 60 days to five years, de­pend­ing on their in­tended use.

Af­ter the proper aging, the blocks are cut into smaller blocks — nor­mally, half-pound, pound, and two-pound blocks. Mis-shaped or bro­ken pieces are made into shred­ded-cheese. The Til­lam­ook Cream­ery pack­ages about a mil­lion pounds of cheese a week, and that takes a lot of milk!

There are hun­dreds of uses for the whey.

The new Til­lam­ook Cream­ery cen­ter is a 38,500-square-foot build­ing that al­lows vis­i­tors the priv­i­lege of learn­ing about each step of the milkto-cheese process, and al­lows them to ac­tu­ally see pro­duc­tion from the sec­ond level. They have a fake cow with the milk­ing ap­pa­ra­tus avail­able to see how quickly chil­dren could milk a cow; and a fake calf is avail­able to let kids “ex­pe­ri­ence” bot­tle­feed­ing a calf.

We vis­ited the fa­cil­ity twice this week and re­ally en­joyed learn­ing. We ate lunch there, but the best part was the large Til­lam­ook ice cream cones! Carol got huck­le­berry and choco­late-peanut but­ter, while I got choco­late and vanilla. That, with the free cheese sam­ples on the sec­ond floor, topped off our meal.

If you get a chance, visit the Til­lam­ook Cream­ery in Til­lam­ook, Ore.

Maybe I should give Graham Thomas some cheese. Would he pre­fer Colby Jack or Pep­per Jack?

— Gene Linzey is a speaker, au­thor and men­tor. Send com­ments and ques­tions to masters. ser­[email protected] Visit his web site at www.genelinzey.com. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

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