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.

South Slough Estuary

While staying with family recently, we visited South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve whose mission is to promote research and education about estuaries on the outer coast of Washington, Oregon, and northern California.  When I was teaching full time, I brought students to South Slough each year for extensive outdoor school experiences.

It was my goal this past month to provide my kiddos with a similar experience and allow them a chance to discover the Secret of the Medallion for themselves, an estuary field trip or study program offered through the South Slough. We were delighted to share our estuary field trip experience with my mom and her friend.  South Slough NERR

South Slough is the south western arm of the larger Coos estuary.  An estuary is a very rich natural environment where fresh water meets and mixes with salt water.  A “slough” is a quiet arm of an estuary.  The source of the estuary’s salt water is the sea; the sources of its fresh water are the rivers and streams of the watershed.

Explore the Habitats

The excursion began at the Hidden Creek Trail Head, just below the interpretive center parking area.  As we proceeded along the trail, we passed through several distinct habitats – upland forests, wetlands,  flood plain, tide flats (mudflats), open water, and eventually these lead us to the sea; all interconnected via the watershed and the animals that depend upon the vegetation that grows there.  We enjoyed stopping along the trail periodically when plants and critters caught our attention.  Interpretive signage also provided additional insight into the ecology of the area.

Through our visit to the reserve, our discussions, and the activities in which we took part at home (see my earlier post, Secret of the Tides), the kids developed a greater understanding of what an estuary is, why an estuary is important, and knowledge that estuaries change because of natural processes and human use.

Integrated Unit Studies

If you would like to explore related lessons and inquiry activities, check out Estuary Ecology, a fourteen lesson hands-on life science curriculum unit study that focuses upon estuaries and salt water marshes.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study.


The Periodic Table of Elements … Up Close & Personal

Periodic Table of the Elements

Photo by E.Lite

When I was in college, I spent a great deal of time on the campus of the University of Oregon.  While I was not a student here, my boyfriend (now my husband) was and I thereby spent a great deal of time with him in Klamath Hall and the Art Library (he liked the intimacy of this library better than the larger Knight Library).  One of the things I remember most about this part of campus was the visual Periodic Table of Elements.  When we had free time in Eugene recently, I knew this was one venue I wanted to share with my kiddos since we had recently spent some time learning a little chemistry ourselves.

I was delighted to discover that the building was accessible in the summer and open to the public.  Prior to our arrival, my kiddos couldn’t quite understand my desire to show them this when I tried explaining it in words.  Once they saw it in person, however, they were excited and very grateful.  They loved finding their favorite elements:  Au, Po, and Ra.  Can you tell we also read a biography of Marie Curie?

I inquired with thestaff as to the specifics regarding the elements on display but to my surprise, no one seemed to know anything.  If memory serves me correct, however, I believe that one mole of each element is on display. A mole is a chemical mass unit, defined to be 6.022 x 1023 molecules, atoms, or some other unit. The mass of a mole is the gram formula mass of a substance. For example, 1 mole of copper has 6.022 x 1023 atoms and weighs about 63.54 grams.

Oregon’s Coastal Ecology

A week ago, we had an opportunity to spend a few days with my dad in Bandon.  Though my childhood home was rented for many years, my father now resides here once again.  We visit as often as we can and try to stay for a few nights at least once a year.  It is always a special time.

Coastal Ecology – 4 Distinct Habitats

On Saturday morning after breakfast, we ventured out onto the mudflats across the street from the house.  We were careful this time around to don old tennis shoes for the occasion.  We headed out at the peak of low tide, but had neglected to check the tidal height.


We thereby discovered, once we were underway, that the tide wasn’t particularly low.  We wouldn’t thereby have as much time for agate collecting as we had anticipated.   

The rock in the mudflats where my brothers and I spent many hours role-playing our favorite stories.

Crossing the mudflats, we observed many signs that wildlife had been here prior to us.  At least two are visible here: one mammal species and one bird.

While I was distracted with my camera … everyone kept moving along.  Anxious to get to the sandy beach where the agates collected and due to the location, rarely seen by human eyes.

Upon crossing the creek, we were then able to step up onto the salt marsh.

Salt Marsh

We observed an abundance of driftwood, pickle weed (Salicornia), and sea lettuce (Ulva).  We didn’t spend much time here this time as the tides were against us, however, we did manage to see evidence that a meal had been enjoyed here – at least by one resident.As we came up over the berm, sadly there is some European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria) here too. We discovered that the beach was amass with Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) basking in the sun. We tried not to disturb them, but with a 6 year old rambunctious boy, that is near impossible.  The seals thereby made a mad dash for the water as soon as they realized we were there.

Sandy Beach

Harbor Seals sunbathing on the beach … at least until we arrived.

We walked along the sandy beach in search of agates … collecting our favorites and investigating other objects of interest.  All the while, the seals observed us from afar, likely wondering when we were planning to leave.  A small group of seals, even followed us along the shoreline for some distance, snorting on occasion, clearly disgusted with our presence.

Agate hunting on the sandy beach

We observed numerous tracks along the sandy beach as well .. though different than those we’d seen on the mudflats.

It was a beautiful morning with very little wind.  We would have liked to have stayed longer, but we knew the tide threatened to trap us on the island or force us to swim so we headed back after about 40 minutes.  We walked back the same way we had come and thereby came to the section of the beach where the three seals I had photographed had been relaxing.

We quickly crossed the mudflats and then continued to trudge across the mudflats.  We observed the remnants of another Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) meal, now becoming a little jealous.  We would have liked to go crabbing too, but we just didn’t have the time.

We were indeed fortunate to have headed back when we did.  On the way out, the creek depth had reached only to my knees.  On the return, however, it was up to my waist.  My dad helped the two little ones cross at the deepest point.  My little guy was quite concerned with the incoming tide.  Though he is a strong swimmer for his age, I actually began to worry he might not be able to swim if the need arose, due to panic.

Upland Forest

Each evening, at dusk, we also trekked across the road to take a peak at the beaver (Castor canadensis) who has recently taken up residence in a culvert on Dad’s property. Sadly, he was always too quick for us and we never observed him in person … only evidence of his presence.  Dad has seen him frequently, so we know he’s there.  Each time we tried to sneak up on him .. he’d duck away and into the culvert under the road.  The water would undulate back and forth in smooth waves as proof he had been there only a moment before.

The picture above shows the trail that he has formed as he travels back and forth through the forest to the mudflats just on the other side of these trees.

It was a great excursion and one we look forward to repeating again. Buddy has a different opinion, however.

Estuary Ecology

Immerse yourselves in a field study of the estuary and its distinct habitats with my Estuary Ecology curriculum available in my store.

Richardson’s Rock Ranch

One of the excursions we have wanted to take ever since we have lived in Central Oregon is to Richardson’s Rock Ranch, just north of Madras.  Somehow or another … it just never made it onto our calendar.  Now that we are moving, I insisted we make the drive.  The night before our departure, my mother called me to say that she would be joining us and that she would be bringing along my niece and nephew!  What a nice surprise!

We met at the ranch around 9:45 a.m. and checked in at the office.  From there, it was only 7 miles to the digging site (we selected an easier one since we were beginners) but the road was not maintained so it took us a good 20-30 minutes to get out there.   We began our quest immediately and were not discouraged.  Everyone found thundereggs … some even appeared to be discarded on the ground.  Our buckets were full within an hour, thankfully as it was getting quite hot already, and we made our way back to the office to weigh and cut open our thundereggs.

According to ancient Native American legend, when the Thunder Spirits living in the highest recesses of snowcapped Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson became angry with one another, amid violent thunder and lightning storms they would hurl masses of these spherical rocks at each other. The hostile gods obtained these weapons by stealing eggs from the Thunderbirds’ nests, thus the source of the name “Thundereggs.”

The Thunderegg was designated Oregon’s official state rock in 1965.  Today, Thundereggs are made into beautiful jewelry, especially bolo ties and pendants, pen stands, bookends, and decorator pieces. Their value ranges from about $1 per slice or half egg to well over $100 per slice or single cabochon.

A Thunderegg is not actually a rock. It is a structure, sometimes a nodule or geode, occurring in rhyolite, welded tuff, or perlitic rocks.  Scientists do not agree on the processes forming Thundereggs. Some insist that the characteristic and unique internal pattern of typical Thundereggs is due to expansion and rupture of rock by gases. Others claim the pattern is due to drying of a colloid or gel. Thundereggs range in size and weight from less than an inch and under one ounce to over a yard in diameter and over a ton in weight. Most eggs collected are between two and six inches in diameter.

If you are interested in teaching a geology unit in your homeschool, you may be interested in a 10 week unit I developed for the middle grades or logic stage.  Earth Logic: Our Dynamic Earth.  I have also created a Squidoo lens where I have organized numerous free online resources and have shared a short interactive quiz.  You can find the lenses here …  Geology Rocks:  A Homeschool Unit Study and Geology: How Well Do You Know Your Stuff?

The Oregon Dunes

A few months ago, our Geography Terms Tour term was Dunes.  Having grown up on the Oregon Coast, it was assured that our focus would be on the Oregon Dunes.  We explored the topic of dune succession and hoped that very soon, we would have the opportunity to visit the dunes ourselves.

The opportunity presented itself this past weekend when we traveled home to visit family.  Patrick contacted a friend of his and set everything up for a personalized tour of the dunes from the comfort of his retrofitted VW bus.  How cool is that?!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get many photos en route to the beach from Rob’s home.  The terrain just didn’t facilitate good picture quality.

“This trip was so entirely fun!  This one spot we went on a very steep hill.  It freaked me out! Rob didn’t have enough power to get up the hill so we had to roll back down.  Then we tried again.  This time we got up.  Then he turned around and drove down the steep hill.  It was fun but felt like we were going to crash!  Along the way, we went through the forest, across the foredune and deflation plain.  There were lots of puddles. Then we got to the beach where we stretched our legs and I looked for shells.” 
~ MeiLi