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CHEESE! Cheese fondue, grilled cheese, fried cheese, a slice of cheese, grated cheese, shredded cheese…you get the picture! We love cheese! We also love to travel. So, what better way to enjoy both cheese and travel than to embark on a Cheese Tour of the West Coast? Let’s get started! There’s cheese to be had!
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #1: Cal Poly Dairy & Cal Poly Creamery
Our trip begins in California, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Jose. San Luis Obispo (SLO) is a town loved by many. It is also home to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly SLO), where their philosophy is “learn by doing.” One of the things students “learn by doing” is how to run a dairy & creamery. Beyond that, they have a Dairy Innovation Institute, in order to further improve dairy products in the future.
The dairy and creamery are completely student-run. The creamery produces cheese, ice cream, and during the holiday time, egg nog! Products are available for purchase on the Cal Poly campus, at Campus Market.
Our next three stops are inland from the Bay Area, in central California.
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #2: Hilmar Cheese Company
Hilmar Cheese Company is located in Hilmar, CA. It has a visitor center that, in my opinion, is 2nd only to Tillamook (which we’ll visit later on the road trip). The Visitor Center is open 7 days a week (except major holidays). There are a variety of free tours, including guided or self-guided. You can learn how cheese is made and explore a variety of exhibits. There is also a viewing area to see right into the cheese factory. Beyond all this, there are FREE samples! And during the summer months, for a nominal fee, you can also create your own ice cream!
If you’re looking for more than just a sample, the Hilmar Cheese Visitor Center also has a cafe, where you can try their cheeses in a variety of delicious meals. Sandwiches, wraps, soups, pizzas, and daily specials are available. They also have a breakfast menu and kids menu!
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #3: Oakdale Cheese
Oakdale Cheese (in Oakdale, CA) handcrafts several varieties of cheese, but their specialty is Gouda. They’ve won awards for their Gouda, and they are dedicated to making it the best. Cheesemaking has been in the family for four generations, beginning in the Gouda region of Holland. Now, we’re lucky enough to be able to visit them in California, 7 days a week. Complimentary self-guided tours of their facility are available, where you can learn about the process and the people behind the process. Stay for lunch or a treat at Oakdale’s Specialty Market & Bakery, where you can also find gift and other gourmet foods.
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #4: Fiscalini Cheese Company
Fiscalini Cheese Company (Modesto, CA) picks up where Swiss ancestors left off. Cheese can be purchased on-site (Monday thru Friday), and the options include unique cheeses, such as their “Purple Moon” (Cheddar soaked in Cabernet Sauvignon)!
Next, we head toward the Bay Area in California.
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #5: Cowgirl Creamery
Cowgirl Creamery is in Point Reyes Station, CA, near the Bay Area. On Fridays, they offer a 60-minute presentation that includes an up-close cheese curd-making demonstration, as well as a guided tasting of all the Cowgirl Creamery cheeses. The cost is $5/person, and reservations should be made in advance.
In the city, they have a Cheese Shop at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza, with their Sidekick Cafe & Milk Bar right next door. The Cafe offers breakfast, including sandwiches featuring their cheeses on fresh Challah rolls. After breakfast, grilled cheese, mac & cheese, and their “cheese toasties” are on offer. Cheese toasties are described as an open-faced sandwich made with Cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, and maple mustard. Sounds delicious!
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #6: Marin French Cheese Co.
Our first stop in Petaluma, CA, is Marin French Cheese Co. They have won many awards for their cheeses, but the one that rises to the top year after year is their Brie.
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #7: Spring Hill Jersey Cheese
Next up in Petaluma, CA, is Spring Hill Jersey Cheese (also known as Petaluma Creamery). They produce a variety of Cheddars, Jacks, Mozzarellas, and curds. You can visit and enjoy breakfast, lunch, or an early dinner at the Creamery Store. Beyond the menu, they sell all of their cheeses, as well as their butter!
We now head out of California and into Oregon and Washington State!
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #8: Rogue Creamery
Not too far north of the California border, in Central Point, OR, is Rogue Creamery. They state that they are the home of the best blue cheese in the world. While blue cheese isn’t my favorite, I can say that I have tasted many of their varieties, and they are all amazing. Lavender Cheddar, Pesto Cheddar, Rosemary Cheddar, and Chocolate Stout were some of my favorites (I like Cheddar…can you tell?).
Their Cheese Shop is a gem. It’s on a quaint street, just one mile from I-5. The Cheese Shop offers free cheese samples, solar-powered grilled cheese sandwiches, root beer on tap (YUM!), and their full line of cheeses for sale. They also carry a variety of other foods and beverages for sale. We found an artisan peppermint patty that was perfect after our grilled cheese and root beer!
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #9: Tillamook
We’ve finally arrived at Tillamook Cheese in Tillamook, OR! Tillamook has our #1 favorite visitor center and some of our favorite dairy products of all time! (NOTE: They are currently constructing a brand new visitor center, and a temporary one is open in the meantime. We can hardly believe that our #1 favorite cheese visitor center is going to be even better!)
Tillamook cheese has been around since 1909. They introduced their first ice creams in 1972, yogurt in 1994, and my latest favorite…farmstyle-cut shredded cheese in 2017. Although Tillamook has existed for generations, our love of their products has grown over the last decade, as they’ve become more readily available in grocery stores around southern California.
My three favorite Tillamook products are (though it’s hard to choose only three!):
- Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar (aged over 15 months – maybe my favorite cheese of all time!)
- Farmstyle-Cut Sharp Cheddar Shredded Cheese (for melting or snacking on)
- Stumptown Cold Brew Coffee Ice Cream (Portland-based Stumptown is some of the best coffee around. Mixing it with Tillamook ice cream = wowzers!)
My favorite way to eat Special Reserve is sliced suuuuuper thin, using this cheese slicer.
Besides cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, Tillamook also produces sour cream and butter. So, stop by the Tillamook visitor center. Taste the free samples. Eat at the Cafe. Enjoy a treat at the Ice Cream Counter. You won’t be disappointed!
Cheese Tour of the West Coast Stop #10: Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
And then there’s Seattle…which quickly became one of my favorite U.S. cities when I visited for the first time. In Seattle, WA, in the famous Pike Place Market, right on the corner of Pike & Pine, sits Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Beecher’s produces my #2 all-time favorite cheese…Flagship, their signature cheese. It is aged for 15 months, and it is amazing. When you visit Beecher’s, you can purchase Flagship all by itself, enjoy it on a grilled cheese sandwich, or as part of their “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese. Beecher’s also makes other cheeses, but Flagship is far and away our favorite.
Are you ready to take your Cheese Tour of the West Coast?