It has been about a year since the Tillamook Creamery debuted its massive $26-million visitors center makeover and travelers seem to be milking the new and improved 38,500-square-foot facility for all it’s worth — in a deliciously dairy kind of way.
“For the past 50 years, we’ve taken a number of vacations up here in Oregon and we always stop here,” said Californian Don Quisenberry, age 93, while enjoying an Oregon Strawberry milkshake. “If [people] are going up the Oregon Coast they should definitely stop. It’s an enjoyable visit.”
Flower the Cow kicks off that visitor experience with her gargantuan photo hanging over the entrance way, welcoming the iconic cheese factory’s 1.3 million annual guests through the “barn door” and into the sprawling facility. Flower is a real-life bovine beauty living on one of the 109-year-old dairy cooperative’s 90 farms. (Her barn-mate Tilly adorns another doorway inside the center.)
So, why was Flower chosen as the face of the new and improved facility?
“Just look at those eyelashes, right?” said Robbie Zumajit Hanson, Tillamook County Creamery Association director of guest experience. “She’s gorgeous!”
The expansion doubles the size of the old facility and once inside, guests are greeted with a large stairwell leading up to an enhanced viewing gallery overlooking the cheese-production facility. The upstairs also includes the forever-popular cheese samples tasting room, as well as interactive exhibits with fun and educational facts about the cheese-making process. Patrons, young and old, can test their talents at a simulated cow-milking set up, “feed” a baby calf and watch mini movies on different aspects of the operation.
Downstairs is an open and airy marketplace with an atrium dining area connected to ample outdoor seating surrounded by a manicured landscape. There’s a two-sided ice cream line that, during the summer’s peak season sees roughly 50 local high school students scooping out dairy delights. A yogurt bar, espresso counter and soda fountain complete the area.
The café menu has been expanded as to include wood-fired pizza and local wine and beer.
“People just love, love, love our new menu,” Hanson said.
Visitors can easily find some ‘Tillamook to take home’ in the revamped and roomy gift shop stocked with bovine-inspired memorabilia, clothing, gifts, gadgets and creamery products such as ice cream, cheese and other tasty treats.
The company also redesigned comfortable behind-the-scenes spaces, including rooms for focus groups and executive meetings.
Moreover, the name and label designs are new. Previously known as the Tillamook Cheese Factory, officials said the Tillamook Creamery rebranding reflects the vast array of dairy products made onsite, and the new packaging “is a nostalgic wink to the past with a modern twist.”
The Tillamook County Creamery Association was established in 1909. The operation started making ice cream in 1947 offering the standard chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Today, there are 32 flavors with favorite temptations like Fireside S’mores and Marionberry Pie.
Its first visitors center opened in 1949 with simple accommodations including restrooms, a small cheese store and guided tours. In 1968, the company built a special entrance and observation area where visitors could look through windows at the cheese-making process.
The visitors center saw its next expansion in 1979 and was remodeled several times in the following 40 years. Additions included a gift shop, a dining and kitchen area, an enclosed patio for the atrium and a new upstairs observation deck.
The most recent revamp, designed by Olson Kundig architects, has been 10 years in the making, according to creamery operation manager Kim Leuthold, who said it was necessary to convert the facility’s fragmented floorplan into a more flowing, less-congested and safer experience for visitors.
Officials added that the Tillamook Creamery visitors center is as big an attraction as the Space Needle in Seattle and Tillamook is one of the Northwest’s largest dairy cooperatives.
The Visitors Center is located at 4156 Hwy. 101 North, Tillamook, open daily from 8 am to 8 pm through Labor Day, and until 6 pm during the off-season. For more information, go to www.tillamook.com or call 503-815-1300 or 800-542-7290.