TILLAMOOK CHEESE FACTORY, AUGRATIN and CASSEROLE
After driving through the Cascade mountain ranges, and watching the beautiful sceneries splashed with green forests and cool blue rivers, we reached a city called Tillamook, “The land of many waters”. (Tillamook is the name of one of the native tribes). The early settlers found the climate of this region most unfriendly for growing food crops. But the profuse lush green grass helped them to rear healthy cows and set up dairies. In the course of time their milk and butter business matured into small cheese manufacturing units and finally paved the way for the establishment of The Tillamook Cheese Factory which is the ultimate destination for all cheese lovers.
Tillamook cheese factory is celebrating its centenary this year.
We took a self-guided trip into the factory and walked thorugh a corridor on the first floor, which was encased in huge glass windows on either side. From there we got a full view of the cheese manufacturing process going on in the ground floor. The employees, all dressed up in white aprons, gloves and caps, looked up now and then to smile and wave at us visitors.
Milk was being pasteurized, curdled, separated from the whey, and finally pressed into cheese blocks. This whole process was carried out inside huge boilers or vats, which looked like gigantic towers, and we could see only the pressed cheese blocks rolling out on the conveyer belt. The huge cheese blocks seemed to take a slow rollercoaster ride towards the curing unit, and were back again on the conveyer belt where they were cut to sizes, shaped and weighed by the employees before they were packed and sealed by machines. Traditional antiquated gadgets used in cheese making were all on display.
Since it was the last weekend before the schools reopened, there were a number of children visiting the factory with their families. The cheese cubes and the spoonfuls of ice-cream samples attracted not only the children but adults as well. We walked past the long queue into the gift shop where a number of knick-knacks, and lots of cheese and other eats were sold, and ended up as usual in the food court. The star attraction was a great many variety of Tillamook ice creams sold in cones, cups and tubs.
We bought special cheese called Pepper Jack to which spicy jalapenos and habanero chillies are added during processing. Habanero chili is one of the most intensely spicy species of chili peppers. The packet of Squeaky cheese – the thick curd separated from whey but not pressed- was an interesting munch for the road. Many varieties of cheese are manufactured in the factory using vegetable based rennet. Tillamook Vintage White Medium Cheddar and Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar are the only two varieties where animal rennet is used, for the extra softness.
We left the “Cheese Heaven” with great amazement and wondered at how a mere cheese factory could be turned out into a great tourist attraction, which provided the visitor with a great learning experience as well.
Au Gratins with crusty browned cheese and bread crumb toppings have long been a favourite with my children ever since they first had the Spinach and Corn Augratin at an eatery called Chit Chat in MG Road Bangalore. The Tomato & Squash Au Gratin below is made by my son.
TOMATO & SUMMER SQUASHES AU GRATIN
Assorted summer squashes and zucchinis – 4
Onion – 2
Garlic – 6 cloves
Salad tomatoes – 6
Cheese (grated)- 2 cups
Breadcrumbs – ½ cup
Butter – 1 tbsp
Dehydrated Thyme – few springs
Olive oil – 4 tbsps
Salt and pepper – as required
1. Wash and cut the squashes to ¼ inch slices.
2. Wash and cut tomatoes into thick slices and leave them on a paper towel to drain
3. Slice the onions
4. Mince the garlic finely
5. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in the griddle on the grill
6. Add the chopped onion and garlic and sauté until glassy but not brown.
7. Grease a gratin dish (or any baking pan) and spread the cooked onion and garlic evenly at the bottom and keep it aside.
8. Place the griddle back on the grill and add one more tablespoon of oil to it.
9. Add the summer squash and zucchini and sauté. Add some crushed thyme, pepper and salt to taste. Cover and cook till they are just crisp and tender.
10. Add pepper and salt and toss well and remove from grill.
11. Arrange a layer of the squash slices over the onion garlic spread in the gratin dish.
12. Now place a layer of drained tomato slices over the squash slices and dust with a little pepper powder and salt and sprinkle with little oil.
13. Repeat the process alternately until all the squash, tomato slices and oil are used up, making sure to get the tomato slices on the topmost layer.
14. Rub the dry thyme in between your palms over the gratin and garnish with the thyme powder.
15. Top the dish lavishly with grated cheese
16. Mix breadcrumbs (toasted in butter) and sprinkle over the gratin.
17. Cover and grill, and keep checking till the cheese turns brown and crusty.
Let the gratin cool for about 15 to 20 minutes after cooking. Enjoy the gratin while the top is still warm and crusty.
CAULIFLOWER, CAPSICUM & RICE CASSEROLE
The delcious spicy cauliflower and rice casserole below is adapted to Indian taste buds, and was prepared by my daughter. You can find the recipe here.