Growing up in Bandon, Oregon, I have many fond memories of walking down to the cheese factory with my brothers to sample the cheese curds. Often, we would walk home with a giant scoop of delicious Umpqua Dairy ice cream dripping down the sides of the cone. One of the most memorable field trips I enjoyed as a student at Ocean Crest Elementary was to the cheese factory where we had a behind the scenes introduction to the science of cheese making.
Over the years, we have returned to Bandon often and the vacant lot in the center of town was more than a mere eyesore, it had been a bitter reminder of a loss the city and its former residents have continued to mourn. The cheese factory, of course, was gone. It had been for years. Cheesemaking had been a tradition. It was history. In addition to cranberries, it was part of what Bandon was.
In July, we visited the Bandon Historical Museum with my dad and according to a display in the museum, cheese making began in the area around 1880. Swiss immigrants Fred and Ida Moser, opened their factory on the North Fork of the Coquille River in 1895 and by early 1900s as many 15 cheese factories operated in the Coquille Valley. Bandon was incorporated in 1891.
In 1927, the original Bandon Cheese & Produce factory was founded. And so it went for more than seven decades. Then, in 2000, the Tillamook Cooperative Creamery bought the Bandon Cheese Factory and retail shop. Three years later, they closed the factory and one year after that the store was also gone. They demolished the building in 2005.
On May 8 of this year, the Bandon Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony for Face Rock Creamery, welcoming the return of a cheese factory right on the spot where the old factory once thrived. Owner Greg Drobot even lured renowned cheesemaker Brad Sinko home from Seattle where he helped launch Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Sinko knew more than a little about Bandon cheese. His father was the former owner of the factory.
“I learned at the Bandon Cheese Factory,” said Sinko, who last year won the American Cheese Society’s Best of Show and in 2007 won best cheddar in the U.S. “I got taught the routine. I didn’t like it at first. But it turned out I have a knack for it.”
During our July visit, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to watch the cheese curds being made and we were given a short tutorial. There are several steps that are needed in order to make cheese curds. The first step is getting a good load of quality milk. It takes about 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese. After the milk is put into the vat, a coagulant is added. This is a milk-clotting enzyme that helps turn the milk into solid pieces of cheese.
You can try this at home too if you have access to quality, un-pastuerized milk from a local dairy.
After the coagulant is added, and cheese curds are formed, the cutting process begins. This process separates the liquid (the whey) and the curds from one another. Once the cutting is done, there is a stirring and heating process in the vat. The curd and the whey are stirred by a big stainless steal arm while being heated to a desired temperature in the vat. After this process, the whey is drained living the curd behind. Finally the curd is ready to eat!
When we visited again last week, we learned that Face Rock Creamery has earned unprecedented kudos in the cheese making world, winning first place at the annual American Cheese Society’s Judging & Competition held in Madison, Wisconsin. The winning recipe was my personal favorite, Vampire Slayer curds, under the “fresh, unripened cheeses with flavor added” category.
Vampire Slayer curds and cheese are some of the most popular items at the creamery. Sinko won’t list all the ingredients — trade secret — but did say the recipe is all-natural, uses lots of garlic, parsley and other herbs with no added salt.
Face Rock Creamery curds, including classic unflavored, jalapeño and garlic; plus fromage blanc, In Your Face Rock Cheddar, garlic cheddar and Monterey Jack will be available. The retail store also features a selection of Oregon-made artisan cheese and wine. And of course, Umpqua Dairy ice cream by the scoop.