Celebrating 100 years of excellence in the dairy industry
By Julie Pederson
If you are from Oregon, you know Tillamook cheese. This familiar product, with its Morning Star logo and waxy orange packaging, is a staple in many northwest homes. In 2009, the Tillamook County Creamery Association will celebrate their 100th anniversary – commemorating the farmers, community and consumers that have made Tillamook a household name.
It was early in 1909 that ten creameries in Tillamook County came together to form the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA). Dairy farming had been prevalent in the region since the first settlers arrived in the valley in the 1850s. With a number of local creameries creating stiff competition, it was some forward-thinkers that realized the potential benefits of forming a cooperative organization. Working together, the creameries could regulate quality and consistency standards and combine marketing efforts.
According to the original bylaws of the association, their objective was “…to bring the producers of the different creameries in Tillamook County together and maintain just and cordial relations among them, and by cooperation to advance their common interests…”
The benefits of the cooperative model were quickly evident and soon after its formation other creameries in Tillamook joined the association. Sharing a cheddar recipe developed by Canadian cheesemaker Peter McIntosh, TCCA went to work developing quality and consistency standards and a marketing program. A cheese inspector was hired to ensure the uniformity of the product.
By 1921, TCCA had developed an advertising campaign targeted at consumers in Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles and had the “Tillamook” brand name registered as a Federal trademark. Tillamook is credited for being the first community to brand its cheese. It is this early and aggressive marketing that likely laid the groundwork for its current status as the number two selling brand of natural chunk cheese in the U.S.
Although the recipe has not changed in 100 years, TCCA works constantly to improve operations. “We do have a strong desire to continue to support the farmer-owners of the cooperative by continuing to grow sales of cheese and other dairy products,” said Mark Wustenberg, TCCA VP of member relations and public affairs.
Tillamook cheese sales are strong, and TCCA’s market is rapidly expanding nationally. Reasons for this include the uniqueness of the Tillamook product and the production capabilities of the cooperative.
TCCA recognizes that to make the best cheese, you need to start with the highest quality milk from premium dairy cows. Tillamook cows are a higher proportion of Jersey to Holstein creating an ideal blend in the incoming milk. Once the milk has reached the factory, it is processed in state of the art facilities and naturally aged for at least 60 days.
“While the cost of producing our products is higher than the competition, we consistently produce a product that consumers recognize as unique and for which they are willing to pay a significant premium,” said Wustenberg.
Of course, nothing sells Tillamook cheese like tasting it first-hand. One of Tillamook’s most successful marketing efforts is their presence at food shows across the country. “Once they try it, they’re hooked,” said Wustenberg.
The Tillamook Cheese Factory, a popular tourist destination, is another place to taste the award-winning Tillamook cheeses. This plant was built in 1949 and by 1968 all of the operating Tillamook cheese factories in the cooperative had consolidated to this centralized location.
While the factory served the association well for a number of years, in 2000 the board of directors approved an expansion of operations to help move TCCA into the 21st century. An additional cheese plant was constructed in Boardman, Ore. and this facility, which was renovated and expanded again in 2005, increased cheese output by 50 percent.
While the cooperative model has afforded members a number of benefits, they are not exempt from the challenges facing the entire agricultural industry in Oregon. “TCCA faces most of the same issues common to the other agricultural sectors. Issues with immigration, environmental footprint, animal welfare, agricultural-urban interface and shrinking member-producer base to name a few,” said Wustenberg.
He continued, “Agribusinesses do things really well in terms of stewardship, but are not really good at talking about it. Addressing these issues requires us to be proactive in listening to our customers, identify trends in the marketplace and consider strategies that continue to keep our member-owners strong.”
As TCCA enters its 100th year in operation, the producers, staff and community will reflect on the rich history of the association and the changing face of the industry. It was the vision of a few ambitious dairy farmers at the turn of the 20th century that created this enduring cooperative. Their legacy of innovation and dedication to quality standards will continue well into the 21st.