Food memories, and, or nostalgia, are important to me -- as my regular readers know. My own personal food memories are as essential to this blog as are the concepts of 100 miles and 'living life locally.' I recently attended an event here in Los Angeles that was a whole-lotta fun. April is apparently a very cheesy month: it's National Grilled Cheese Month and the Tillamook Cheese Company is on the road with their 'The Loaf Love Tour.' They've retrofitted three 1966 Standard VW Microbuses to resemble 'Baby Loafs' of Tillamook cheddar and are visiting one-hundred cities in nine states throughout the Western U.S., Texas and Illinois to teach consumers about their famous cheese. Tillamook is also the 'exclusive cheese sponsor' for the 2010 Grilled Cheese Invitational -- 'a grilled cheese sammich cooking competition' taking place in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 24th that I will happily be attending.
My friend, Jo Stougaard (of My Last Bite) and I went to a gathering of foodies to taste Tillamook cheddar, to pose with the 'Baby Loaf' Microbuses, and to eat cheese-inspired dishes prepared by Chef Akasha Richmond at her Culver City restaurant Akasha Restaurant Bar & Bakery. It was a lighthearted, full-of-laughs evening. And delightfully, it involved a cheese from my childhood. Growing up in California, we took a lot of trips north to Oregon and Washington. Tillamook cheddar is made in Tillamook County, Oregon. That loaf of orange cheese was always around when I was a kid; at home, at relatives, in grocery stores, in advertising. It was a 'thing.' For me it was a bit like a favorite pair of slippers. Steady, loyal and comforting. It still is. It was nice to see it again, and to reconnect with it.
Tillamook is a farmer owned cooperative. After a cheese from the county won an award at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, Tillamook County dairy farmers knew they had something special. In 1909 ten independent cheese producing plants in Tillamook County banded together and formed a cooperative 'to control quality and to market the cheese from the county as a whole instead of from individual plants.' The Tillamook County Creamery Association was born. Today the association consists of 110 dairy families. The cheese can now be found in grocery stores across the country and is used in restaurants from national chains to high-end eateries. The cheddar product line includes Medium Sharp, Special Reserve Extra Sharp, Vintage White, Smoked Cheddar, Mozzarella, Colby and three Jacks -- Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack and Colby Jack. They also make ice cream, yogurt, butter and sour cream. Tillamook products are all-natural, and are made from the highest-quality milk from cows not treated with artificial bovine growth hormone --in other words they are both good and safe to eat. This is a company I can get behind; from its humble beginnings to its now nationally recognized status it is still true to its original values. It's still a cooperative, its products continue to be all-natural, and they make their cheese the way they did when it all began in 1909. Despite their success they are still an old-fashioned company. That's something to celebrate.
Chef Akasha Richmond's Tillamook cheese-inspired food was a perfect compliment to the cheese tasting. Photos by Jo Stougaard.