Cheesemaking is all about balance and achieving consistency in the finished product. When the cheesemaker is also a dairy cooperative, there are additional and often competing concerns to balance. The farmer members of the co-op want a fair price for their milk, but the processing side doesn’t want to overpay, lest the finished product is too expensive for the market. The co-op might want to grow, but that can mean increasing the herd size, accepting new members or purchasing milk outside the co-op. Those needs have to be balanced with long-range goals.
Tillamook County Creamery Association is all too familiar with this balancing act. The dairy co-op has approximately 105 members, with the typical farmer milking an average of 200 dairy cows. In addition to the farmers, TCCA has approximately 475 year-round employees at its headquarters in Tillamook, Ore., 30 in a sales and marketing office in Tigard and 130 in Boardman.
In August, TCCA hired Patrick Criteser as president and CEO, succeeding Harold Strunk, who retired in June. Criteser had been president and CEO of Coffee Bean International, a Portland, Ore.-based coffee roaster. Previous experience includes management and strategic development roles at Nike, Walt Disney Co. and Procter & Gamble.
The association pays members a premium price for their milk and processes that milk into premium-priced cheese and ice cream. The co-op delivers approximately 1.5 million pounds of milk daily to the processing plant in Tillamook. But in order to grow, the co-op needs more milk than its members can produce, so it has contracted for milk from outside the association to supply a second plant in Boardman.
Tillamook County is a little patch of Oregon bordered by an ocean bay on the west and a mountain range on the east. The region receives ample rainfall and the temperatures are cool throughout the year. Swiss immigrants in the 1800s decided it was a good place to raise dairy cows. It still is; some of their descendants farm in the area.