Overall grade: C
In a word: I didn’t hate this factory “tour,” but with so many better things to do along the Oregon coast it’s kind of hard to see the point.
More words: The Tillamook Cheese Factory feels like it’s halfway between a Chuck E. Cheese and a mall. Stepping across the threshold during a recent visit, I was greeted with chaos: children running in every direction, tired families waiting in line for hamburgers, half a yellow Volkswagen van sticking out of a wall. The air was thick not with the aroma of cheese, but of ice cream cones.
Immediately, all of my mental tourist trap alerts went off.
I had decided to visit the factory, in the town of Tillamook, during a trip up the Oregon coast. Before setting out I’d read a few negative reviews, but chalked them up to people not really liking cheese or factories. I’m into both of those things, so I figured even a mediocre site was bound to please.
After stepping inside, I quickly realized that the factory entrance led to a food court-like group of burger stands and cheese vendors. There were a few amusement park-esque photo ops set up around the space, as well as plaques with information about the company. I can’t fault Tillamook for wanting to make some extra money off tourists, but it was disappointing because it was A) way too crowded, B) had little do to with why I’d come (to see cheese manufactured), and C) seemed to account for a large percentage of what visitors could actually do there.
The only thing worth checking out downstairs is the free tasting, which involves lining up to sample squares of various Tillamook products.
This experience is vastly less glamorous than the phrase “cheese tasting” implies, but the line does move quickly and it is free (though the point is obviously to get you to buy cheese in the shop that begins at the end of the line).
The actual “factory” section of the facility is observable from upstairs. This is what Tillamook describes as a “self guided tour,” though it’s really just one large room lined with observation windows. The windows look down onto the factory floor, and it’s genuinely interesting to see large blocks of cheese cut and processed.
Unfortunately, at least when I visited, the crowds were sufficiently large as to make it difficult to appreciate the relatively modest thrills of watching two cheese workers chatting beside a 40 pound block of cheddar.
And that’s the problem: the whole “factory” thing, while interesting, gets overwhelmed by an experience that feels like it could be anywhere and showing off anything. I can buy Tillamook cheese in pretty much any grocery store, so I was hoping for more from the factory side of the visit.
That doesn’t mean the Tillamook factory is entirely unpleasant, it just means it’s fairly unremarkable and not worth making a priority. The Oregon coast is dotted with stunning landscapes, history, and food, and because life is short I recommend doing all of those things first.
If you go: Avoid the crowds in the food court by heading immediately to the left and up the stairs to the observation room. Or skip that and just try some free cheese samples.
— Jim Dalrymple II