The Potato and the Tilamook Cheese Factory

January 8, 2011 · 3 comments

Before this Christmas season we had never made the connection between the introduction of the potato to Europe from the Andes in the 16th century and where Tilamook cheese comes from.

That was before our recent holidays afforded us both the opportunity for another great road trip and the time to watch some movies, in particular “The Botany of Desire,” a fascinating documentary by Michael Pollan on plants and our relationship with them.

First, let’s talk cheese.

We spent the Christmas holidays with Kathy’s folks on beautiful Vancouver Island and drove back to California via coastal Highway 1 through Oregon. The route took us through the town of Tilamook at precisely the time we were both a bit road punchy, the puppy needed a pit stop, and the Tilamook Cheese Visitor Centre appeared through the rain with its huge grassy dog run and picnic area.

Perfect! Who doesn’t enjoy an impromptu food factory tour? After all, as fascinating as farmers markets are, factories contribute a MUCH greater proportion of what shows up on our plates.

Plus, there are usually samples.

Quick Photography 101 note: sometimes shifting a color photo to black and white allows you to see things you might otherwise miss, like the relationships between shapes or just how much machinery is involved in the creation and processing of a “natural” food like cheese.

Are the machines helping people make cheese? Or are people helping the machines make cheese?

It was clear that the people were helping the machines.

These two ladies were weighing the blocks the apparently untrustworthy cheese-o-matics were creating. If a block was on the heavy side, they sliced a little off the top, tossing the leftovers into nearby plastic tubs with the precision of an NBA all-star. If light, they corrected by slapping an extra slice on top and sending the new and improved block rumbling along its way.

I kept expecting to have one of those faces turn up to face the viewing windows and it be Lucille Ball.

It’s interesting to be of the generation in history where we think of Lucille Ball and the industrial revolution as being sort of the same thing…

… which is a ridiculously clumsy segue to the story of the humble potato and the Tilamook Cheese Factory.

To sum up:

Spanish conquistadors decided that 1532 was a great year to check out Peru, discovered the potato, and gradually spread the robust plant throughout Europe to unimpressive levels of acceptance by the general population by the late 1600’s… ish.

Potatoes were either an exotic garden novelty, a grotesque tuber from a heathen land, or a member of the nightshade family and thus a manifestation of the devil.

Turned out, however, that they grew almost anywhere, had the potential to be prolific food for the masses, and relieved enough people from the fields — where they were focused on food production — to move into the cities to work in the factories that fueled the industrial revolution…

… which we had forgotten about until the dog needed to pee in Tilamook.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue January 9, 2011 at 9:48 am

hey guys we can’t see or it won’t download the 2nd and 3rd pictures for some reason?

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rickandkathy January 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Hi Sue!
Thanks for the heads up. We’ve reloaded the photos on the post. Can you see them now?

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Sue January 10, 2011 at 9:36 am

Oui! Tres bonne!

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