Oregonians feel a connection to the company and they rave about Tillamook’s cheeses (including Cheddar, Colby Jack and Monterey Jack). An outsider might chalk that up to local chauvinism, but the company has a trophy case of medals to back up its claims of being the best. The American Cheese Society named Tillamook Colby “America’s best” in its 2012 and 2011 contests and the company won a total of four ACS awards in 2011. At the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in 2011, Monterey Jack and Colby Jack were named best in class. At the World Championship Cheese Contest in 2010, Tillamook Medium Cheddar was named best in class.
The company says it does not make special batches of cheese for contests. Instead, it just pulls a cheese from the warehouse to enter into a competition. It does inspect blocks for cosmetic defects and other criteria. But beyond that, these are the same cheeses available at retail.
Balancing taste with other factors
The balancing act that is cheesemaking shows up again in the company’s sensory lab, a sort of tasting room. Jill Allen is the company’s quality manager. She and her crew of six sample dairy products from every production run, even those processed in Boardman and those by co-packers and licensed partners. It is Allen who determines what to release for sale and what to return to the warehouse to age for one or two years. She balances the production with sales forecasts for cheeses aged six months and for those aged longer.
Tillamook has a diverse customer base. Allison has five internal sales people and a national network of brokers calling on retail accounts. National grocery accounts include Safeway and Kroger. Tillamook broke into club stores in the 1980s with Costco, based in neighboring Washington. Sam’s Club is also a customer. Dollar stores are a new and important channel.