Face Rock Creamery :: Cheese Factory

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.

cheese factoryIn 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.”

cheese factoryDuring 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!

cheese factoryWhen 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.

Lucero Olive Oil Company

After trying our hand at harvesting our own olives recently, What to Do With Fresh Olives, I wanted to give the kiddos a taste of the agricultural sciences. When I was browsing the recent edition of Edible Shasta-Butte magazine, an ad for Lucero Olive Oil caught my attention. The fact that the company is third-generation family owned and operated business resonated with me and I thereby made arrangements to visit their mill and store front in Corning, California, known as the Olive City, is home to the Bell Carter Olive Company, which is the world’s largest ripe olive cannery. Corning also has a significant agriculture industry centered around olives, olive oil, dried plums (prunes) including the “Sunsweet” label, walnuts, and almonds.

As we toured the facilities and tasted the multitudes of award winning oils and balsamic vinegars, it was evident their knowledge and experience have elevated the science to an art.  The Lucero Olive Oil companhas won more acclaim for it’s Extra Virgin Olive Oils than any other producer in North America with over 100 awards.

The Lucero family owns about 500 acres of olive trees and purchases additional olives from other growers to meet their production demands. The mill is certified organic though the growers have no need to spray their crops for pesticides as there is no need (few pests feed on the evergreen tree) and the arid soils and climate in the northern Sacramento valley are perfect for the tree native to the Mediterranean and thus they require no fertilizers.

Two types of trees are used in the production of the the olive oils produced here … Seviano trees, which require hand picking to harvest the fruit, or alternatively, laying a tarp below the tree and shaking the fruit loose and Arbequina trees which can be harvested mechanically as the limbs are more flexible.  The harvesting machine essentially drives over the top of the trees and with rubber fingers extracts the fruit from the branches and drops it to a conveyor belt. Extra Virgin Olive Oil by definition is pressed only once, heated no higher than 78 degrees, and with an acidity less than 0.5.  Proudly, Lucero’s oil has never been higher than 0.2, surpassing even imported olive oils.

After our tour of the facilities, we sat down to enjoy a tasting of the many varieties and blends of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  We learned to first warm the oil by cupping it in our hands.  We then brought it to our nose to smell the various fruity and nutty aromas. We then sampled by sipping and slurping – the kids got a kick out of that!

Upon the conclusion of our tour, we enjoyed sampling additional blends and foods available only at the store or by mail-order including mustards, olive tapenades, and to our delight vanilla ice cream served with chocolate infused extra virgin olive oil and strawberry white balsamic vinegar.  I can not wait to share our local discovery with my friends and family and to try out some of their delicious recipes.