Tuesday, October 21
I have a monster of a post for you today (mwah-ha-ha!!!), complete with ideas for completely cute yet simple Halloween party table decor as well as a 13 (mwah-ha-ha!!!) ridiculously adorable Halloween recipes.
When it comes to entertaining, I keep it simple. I like to have a whole bunch of white serving dishes in storage that I can pair with a few accent pieces and a colored tablecloth for the occasion. Then I just throw a few decorations on the table – simple but elegant. A vase of flowers, a Christmas wreath with candles, a few pumpkins for a Halloween party…you know, SIMPLE. There’s enough going on to get ready for parties I just can’t go over the top with my decor. But I find by playing in a simple way with color and using lots of white dishes, the table always looks impressive.
My ruffle dishes from Q Squared NYC are just such pieces that come in handy for all kinds of occasions. The ruffle design is elegant and a little bit different than your standard white dishes. BUT…if you pair it with a black tablecloth and a few of Q Squared’s slate platters, those wavy white dishes suddenly take on a spooky air! Seriously, I can’t tell you how much I loved using these dishes to decorate a Halloween table! Throw a few pumpkins on the table and make Halloween-themed food and you’re all set!
I think Halloween food is the most fun food in all the land. Whenever October rolls around, I am always so impressed with the creative food I see in magazines and on blogs! Here are a few favorites I’ve found this year, including a couple I used for my own Halloween party decor!
My friend Kristen from Dine & Dish shared Frankenguac just this week. Is this not the cutest guacamole ever? Be sure to click through to Kristen’s post for details! (I put my Frankenguac on a slate platter and it was beyond adorable and a great centerpiece for the table.)
My friend Sommer from A Spicy Perspective posted these adorable Halloween skewers, which my kids happily gobbled up! I couldn’t find dark grapes, so I used blackberries instead. I think blackberries (i.e. black pickled brains!!!) might even be spookier. Check out Sommer’s post for more details! (The skewers looked perfect on the ruffle long platter.)
Here are a few more Halloween recipes I am dying to try! (Mwah-ha-ha!!!)
Butterbeer Popcorn from An Edible Mosaic (because I simply cannot resist anything Harry Potter!)
Well, that list should keep you busy until Halloween rolls around next week. Happy Hallowen!
This post was sponsored by Q Squared NYC. As always, all opinions are 100% my own. Seriously, those dishes I used are PERFECT for Halloween. Get shopping!
Tuesday, October 14
I made an impulse buy at the grocery store this week: a Hutzler Onion Saver.
Here’s the thing. I never know how to store leftover, raw, unchopped onions, which I often have because I tend to only use half an onion at a time. I don’t like to use plastic baggies because of my goal to use less one-time use plastic. But the onion is usually kind of bulky, so I have to use a larger storage container than I really need that takes up space in the fridge. Basically, this is a very difficult problem to have and my life is hard. (Insert sarcastic emoji that doesn’t exist but should.)
Hence, my impulse buy of the onion saver. And, I LOVE it. Granted, I’ve only used it for 2 days and have no idea if it will last forever or whatever, but, so far, so good. It stores my onion well, doesn’t take up tons of space in the fridge, and traps in the onion odor so the fridge doesn’t get stinky.
Happy onion storing!
Friday, October 10
One quick food link to share from Babble – making pumpkin rocks with my kids for all the neighbors. We had a blast!
It’s show and tell, your turn!
Thursday, October 9
I love me an empty refrigerator. This is a weird example of how my neurotic tendencies (a desire for cleanliness) overcome my survival instincts (having food to eat). It’s weird, but seriously, when the fridge is half-full (or would that be that half-empty?) it makes me happy! But, I’ll admit, my fridge is not always in such a clean, empty state. At any given moment we most certainly have food in there that needs to be tossed and I definitely don’t wipe down the shelves as often as I should. Let’s not even get started on the fingerprints on the outside of the fridge!
But here’s the thing – when I do properly maintain the fridge, keep the food fresh, and the drawers and shelves clean, I feel sooooo much better! And we have far less food waste. So, today, in order to inspire us all to maintain beautiful refrigerators and to eat all of our food, I think we need to share some fridge tips and tricks with each other!
As you know, about a year ago KitchenAid supplied us with a brand new, beautiful 20 Cu. Ft. French Door Counter Depth Architect Series II fridge. One year later and I am still loving this fridge. And, yes, I’m still happy that we have a counter-depth fridge, although I will admit that it’s been nice having our old fridge in the garage for overflow at the holidays and to house the occasional larger item like a birthday-cake-in-the-making. Anyway, the fridge is fabulous and, now that I have a fridge I actually care about, I’ve gotten into a better groove about maintaing the fridge and keeping our food fresh. Here are a few of the things I have learned!
- Replacing the Water Filter is Easy, So, You Know, Do It! I don’t know how many people I know who don’t use the water dispenser in their fridge because they stopped replacing the filter. Luckily our fridge tells us when to order a water filter. We listened to our fridge and went online to order the filter, which arrived right around the time that the fridge said it was time to replace the filter. It was kind of magical. Anyway, it was really easy to replace and I even did it ALL BY MYSELF, no help from Nate. (This is saying something, I normally don’t put anything together in our house, not even LEGOs.)
- Don’t Use Cleaners on Stainless Steel – A Damp Cloth is All You Need! Okay, I’m sure a lot of you already know this, but when my fridge was brand new I used a mild general-purpose spray cleaner and the entire front of the fridge ended up with tiny rust marks ALL OVER IT, which I then had to carefully scrub off with baking soda and a soft towel. I opened the manual afterward and, sure enough, it says to only use cleaners made for stainless steel and nothing else. DUH. Now I just use a damp towel to wipe down the stainless steel, followed by a dry towel. I don’t even bother with the stainless steel cleaner, water does the trick!
- Use the Humidity Controls on the Crisper Drawers. For some reason I could never wrap my brain around the humidity controls on produce drawers, but I finally have it figured out. The higher the humidity control (so on my fridge #5), the more sensitive the veggies and fruit should be in that drawer. So, you know, high maintenance produce gets a high setting. Like lettuce. The lower the humidity control (on my fridge #1), the heartier, more low-key the produce, like fruits and veggies with peels. I guess if you really don’t want to think about it just throw the setting in the middle and call it a day, but if you decide to utilize the settings, your produce will last longer!
- Clean Out the Fridge Once a Week (for example, when you plan your weekly menu!). Fridges packed with food seriously stress me out. I know, I’m weird. But they do. I try really hard to stay on top of it and keep food cleaned out that has gone bad. When I can actually see what’s in the fridge, we are much more likely to eat the food inside and end up with far less food going bad.
- Wipe Out the Fridge Regularly, and Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Shelves and Drawers Out. Sometimes I wipe the shelves and drawers out frequently. Sometimes I neglect them and then we discover a giant blob of sticky goo underneath the produce drawers. I find that if I just wipe out the shelves each week when I clean out the old food, then it’s pretty easy. And the mystery goo blobs don’t appear nearly as often.
- Get a Fridge with a Temperature Management System. When we got our fridge I’ll admit I didn’t think much about what KitchenAid’s “ExtendFresh Temperature Management System” meant. Now that I have had the fridge for a year I really appreciate it! The system controls the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer compartments separately, it responds to temperature changes as small as 1º and adjusts accordingly, and the fan transfers cold air immediately from the freezer to the fridge for a faster response to temperature changes without needing to turn on the compressor. The system also maintains consistent temperatures, regardless of external temperatures or even the temperature in other compartments inside the fridge. Basically, it’s a super fancy system and it works GREAT. There’s even an alarm that alerts you if the temperature goes too high, which happened to me just the other night in fact! The door was barely open when we went to bed, but it didn’t trigger the door alarm for some reason. Once the temperature raised enough, the fridge started beeping and woke me up, but not before I dreamed about the fridge and it’s alarm first.
So, what gems of refrigerator wisdom do you have for us? Spill your fridge maintenance guts! (Feel free to confess your less-than-perfect maintenance skills, too!)
This post was sponsored by KitchenAid. All opinions are 100% my own.
Friday, October 3
October is Fair Trade Month and I’m so excited to help support the cause! Plus, I have a completely delicious dark chocolate pumpkin seed granola bar recipe for you. Basically there’s a whole lot of goodness going on in this here post. Before we get to the fair trade chocolate granola bars (mmmmmm….), let’s talk about fair trade for a moment and meet some of the farmers!
There are a lot of labels on our foods these days. Gluten Free. Organic. Cage Free. Natural. GMO-free. The list goes on and on and ON. With so many labels, it’s easy to stop seeing them when you’re shopping. But one label that I always notice is the ‘Fair Trade Certified’ label. And, when I do see that label, I try to stop and think about the people behind the label, the farmers benefiting from that product.
Two of those people are Miguel Romero Martínez, 22, from Tlapa, Guerrero, and Lucía Simón Mariano, 18, from Veracruz. Miguel and Lucía have an adorable two-month old daughter named Dulce Yamilet. Miguel’s family has been living permanently in the Chula Vista II residential area within Divemex’s La Veinte Agricultural Complex in Culiacán since 2006, while Lucía first came to Sinaloa with her parents in 2010. Divemex is a produce cooperative in Mexico that grows bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. Both Lucía and Miguel are now employees, have an apartment of their own and currently Miguel is the recipient of a Fair Trade-sponsored employee scholarship as he studies open adult junior high school.
The Martinez-Hernandez family, whose first language is Nahuatl and originally come from Tlapa, Guerrero, is one of the most successful cases of migrant families from Southern Mexico, with numerous family members employed by Divemex and recipients of Fair Trade-sponsored scholarships. Currently, two family members receive open adult education scholarships while two others receive stipends given to children of employees. All must keep a monthly B+ average in order to maintain the scholarship status.
From Left to Right: Miguel Romero Martinez (22, employee, open adult Junior High School scholarship recipient), his wife Lucía Simón Mariano (18, employee) with two-month old daughter Dulce Yamilet, Floriberto Romero Martinez (16, Junior High School scholarship recipient as child of employee), David Romero Martinez (20, employee), Andres Romero Martinez (24, employee, open adult Junior High School scholarship recipient, and only indigenous member of the Ten-person Fair Trade council at Divemex), Ana Martínez Peralta (family matriarch and employee), Heidi Hernandez Martinez (8, elementary school scholarship recipient as child of employee) and Felipe Hernandez Guerrero (employee, father of Heidi, and step-father to the four young men).
Don’t you love seeing their pictures and hearing just a small part of this family’s story? It’s kind of amazing. Plus, in learning about this family I discovered that fair trade doesn’t just apply to non-perishable goods but to produce, as well. Very cool!
Fair Trade USA sent me a box of goodies (which I will also be giving away in just a minute) and challenged me to use some of the ingredients in a recipe. As I was gearing up to make our weekly supply of granola bars, I decided to change the bars up a bit. So, here’s the deal. We love our chocolate chip granola bars so much I can’t bring myself to change the flavor. But, this week, I decided adding more chocolate would not be a bad choice.
I added fair trade cocoa powder from Lake Champlain Chocolates as well as barkTHINS dark chocolate pumpkin seed bark with sea salt to the granola bars instead of boring chocolate chips. The result was SPECTACULAR. As I was making the granola bars, I realized that I had fair trade brown sugar, fair trade coconut oil and fair trade vanilla to use in the recipe as well. These granola bars are pretty soundly fair trade!
Before we get to the recipe, let’s do a giveaway! One of you lucky commenters will get the same package of fair trade goodies I received, including products from Equator, Guittard, barkTHINS, Lake Champlain Chocolates, LÄRABAR, Traditional Medicinals, Dang Foods, Numi Tea, Frontier Natural Products Co-Op, Eco Lips, Alter Eco, Badger Balm, Third Street, Celestial Seasonings, SunSpire, Nourish Organic and the book Where Am I Eating?.
Here’s how to enter the giveaway!
- Leave a comment on this post by Midnight PT on 10/31/14.
- Bonus entry: Click here to repin this granola bar recipe on Pinterest! You need to specifically repin this pin and please leave a separate comment below indicating you’ve done so.
- Bonus entry: Follow Fair Trade USA on Facebook (leave a separate comment indicating you are following!)
- Bonus entry: Follow This Week for Dinner on Facebook (leave a separate comment indicating you are following!)
Time for granola bars! Happy Fair Trade Month!
Tuesday, September 30
I am SOOOOO excited about today’s post for two reasons. Reason #1: how gorgeous is my birthday cake? (In case you’re wondering, the cake is from Extraordinary Desserts and is called The Viking. Nate buys this cake for me as a gift every year and it is the reason I live for my birthday.)
Reason #2 I am excited about today’s post: I have a spectacular new kitchen tip for you.
When Nate picked my cake up last week at Extraordinary Desserts, they told him to use a hot knife to cut the cake, a tip we already know and love (simply hold the knife under hot water for 45 seconds, dry it off and then cut – smooth as silk!). But they also taught him how to perfectly cut the first slice of cake, and it’s so simple! Here’s what they had to say on the subject:
“Use two knives to cut the first piece.”
Why we were never given that tip before I’ll never know, but I’ll tell you what. BEST. TIP. EVER. Nate mentioned their comment as we were about to cut the cake and were both like, “Two knives? Huh?” And then we tried it and WOW. It’s just so easy to slide that first slice right out of the cake when you have two hot knives simultaneously pulling it out. Amazing.
Just one more reason to love Extraordinary Desserts, as if I needed another! I will never be scared to cut into a cake again!
Side note: You can make this cake, the recipe is included in the book Extraordinary Cakes by Karen Krasne, the pastry chef behind Extraordinary Desserts. The cake involves six recipes…you’ve been warned!
Thursday, September 18
Have you ever undertaken a quest? I have not. I’m not a huge goal-making kind of person. I like seeing what opportunities arise in life and just going with it. Nate once asked where I saw my career in 5 years and I felt like hyperventilating! Making plans and goals is not my thing.
That said, I’ve decided to fight my natural instincts and undertake a quest. Set a goal. Accomplish a monumental task that I have actually planned on accomplishing ahead of time. And, to be honest, it’s a little scary. And telling you about it is making it even scarier.
I have a literary agent. She is fabulous. To not work with her on a book would be a crime, so I’m totally going for it. Except, I’ve been going for it for 4 years. She is very patiently waiting for my book proposal to hit her Inbox while I’m off having babies (done!), moving a few times (done!) and going through about 20 different ideas for a book, none of which I liked. But the stars are finally aligning. My agent and I have settled on a theme for the book that we are both really excited about. I am in a place in life where I can carve out time for writing a book. I’ve done a lot of the groundwork with my blog that I need to do before an agent goes out to sell my book. Basically, it’s time. I’m starting my quest.
My quest is simple…well, simple to describe, at least! I am going to finish writing my book proposal. It needs to happen. I need to know I gave it my all and then see where it takes me, see what my agent can do with it. Whether or not I end up as a bestselling author is beside the point. I want to know I tried, that I took advantage of this opportunity placed before me.
Today’s post is sponsored by Random House in support of the new book The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau. Chris had a quest – to visit every country in the world by the time he was 35 years old. Chris’s book talks about his quest as well as the quests of many other people he met on his journey, people he calls strivers. As I’ve read through the book and seen what makes these strivers tick, it’s been great food for thought. Bonus: his thoughts and suggestions are making me feel less scared of the journey!
Do you have a quest you’ve been putting on the backburner? Have you completed one? Are you still finding your quest? Please share your thoughts with me. I need moral support!
One lucky commenter will win a copy of The Happiness of Pursuit. Comments must be posted by Wednesday, 9/24 at Midnight PT, one entry per person, and the winner’s book must ship to a U.S. address. Good luck! Can’t wait to hear about your quests!
Comment #6 Ellen Patton was the randomly-selected winner of this giveaway. Congrats, Ellen!
Thursday, September 11
This post is sponsored by McDonald’s. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
In May, McDonald’s flew me to Chicago to visit their headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. I sat down for 60 minutes of discussion with some of their leadership team, including the senior directors of marketing and management. McDonald’s understands that they have a polarizing brand and they are making efforts to reach out to people who have neutral or negative opinions about the company (people like me!) to engage in a dialogue. When they first approached me about potentially doing a sponsored post on my blog involving an interview with members of the leadership team, in all honesty my initial reaction was “no way.” But I thought about it a lot and decided that this could be an excellent opportunity to talk with decision-makers at the company, ask them direct questions and hear what they had to say (as well as maybe get a chance to share my thoughts around their business).
I feel strongly that what we do in the kitchen has a strong impact on Mother Earth. My New Year’s resolutions always involve an environmental goal that’s directly related to how our family eats. I also try to cook at home as much as I can to feed my family a nutritious and balanced diet. But guess what? We also go to McDonald’s. Not all the time, but we go. Cate doesn’t like McDonald’s and normally doesn’t order anything (she’s well-versed in the concept of monoculture farming but also does not enjoy the food). Anna and Owen, however, love McDonald’s, and it’s a special treat for them when we go. That said, on the occasions that I visit McDonald’s, questions and concerns about sustainability and our food system are constantly swirling in my head.
When my girls found out that I was going to interview people at McDonald’s, I asked if they had any specific things they wanted me to talk about. They both said they wanted me to ask McDonald’s to please put baby carrots in the Happy Meals. I shared our family’s wish with Chef Jessica, so I’ve done my duty. Even though McDonald’s does not accept unsolicited advice – “Jane Maynard’s Requests” was not on the “How a Product Is Developed” infographic they shared with me – if baby carrots ever do appear in the Happy Meal, the girls and I are totally taking credit!
On to the interviews! Here are the folks that I had the chance to talk with, both in person and over the phone:
- Justin Ransom, PhD, Senior Director, Quality Systems, Supply Chain Management
- Erik Gonring, Manager, Global Government Relations & Public Affairs
- Chef Jessica Foust, RDN, Director of Culinary Innovation
- Cindy Goody, PhD, MBA, RDN, LDN, Senior Director of Nutrition
- Darci Forrest, Senior Director Marketing, Menu Innovation Team
In my discussion with Justin and Erik, we talked about food sustainability and supply issues, which have always been my biggest concerns with McDonald’s and other big food brands. I learned from talking with Justin and Erik that when McDonald’s looks at sourcing, there’s a triple bottom line that’s defined by three Es: ethics, environment and economics. Those three factors drive how the company sources their food. One interesting takeaway that I learned – and something that I honestly hadn’t thought about before – is that McDonald’s wants to get their food from sustainable sources, because they need those supplies to not disappear.
Erik gave the example of the Filet-O-Fish, an iconic McDonald’s item. At one point, the company learned that they were contributing to the depletion of the cod supply off the Atlantic coast. This problem had ethical, environmental and economic implications. McDonald’s knew they had to make a change, especially since they needed a long-term fish supply in order to continue serving the beloved sandwich. After years of work, McDonald’s USA has reached a point where all of the whitefish they use is sustainably harvested, and McDonald’s was the first national chain to serve whitefish sourced from a Marine Stewardship Council-certified sustainable fishery.
I also inquired about organic and local sourcing. Justin said that 14,000 restaurants using local and/or organic ingredients is a challenge. Taking into account their high standards for quality, safety and consistency, McDonald’s has to minimize risk in their supply chain, which makes organic and locally sourced foods difficult to implement. I understand this on a logical level, but it’s still a concern for me. I asked Justin if he was at all optimistic that, in the future, we could source foods in more sustainable ways at this scale. Justin said he is. Honestly, I don’t know that I am, but I’m glad someone is.
We also discussed waste. On the customer side, I asked about recycling and compost bins in restaurants. Erik said that when there is infrastructure to support recycling and composting, typically they get on board: restaurants in cities including San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Austin have recycling bins, and many of those markets also compost organic waste behind the counter. But he also stressed that customer behavior is the biggest challenge when implementing these systems. On the supply side, I learned that the bulk of the waste at a restaurant happens behind the counter. McDonald’s recycles their corrugate and cooking oil in many restaurants, which makes up to 40% of that behind-the-scenes waste. The company is also taking actions like phasing out polystyrene coffee cups and joining the How2Recycle label program to make it easier for customers to recycle away from the restaurant.
The biggest takeaway from my discussion with Erik and Justin is that McDonald’s won’t compromise on their final product. The McDonald’s fry is a good example of this. Justin said that the taste of McDonald’s fries must remain consistent around the world. This means that McDonald’s only uses a handful of potato varieties from specific regions of the world. I was told that identifying new varieties is a long and arduous process and McDonald’s would never allow customers to notice a change in their fries. For me, this is a perfect example of how our demand for one specific product leads to problematic farming practices. If there were more room for variation, we wouldn’t need to farm such limited varieties of potatoes. When there is such a high demand for just a few crops, those plants are susceptible to pests, which in turn necessitates the use of either GMOs – which McDonald’s made clear that they do not use – or pesticides. Industrialized monoculture farming, where you grow un-diversified crops, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our demand – what we will or will not buy – directly impacts how food is grown.
In my discussion with chef Jessica, nutritionist Cindy and marketer Darci, we talked at length about the menu, how it’s developed and efforts around nutrition. Here are four key takeaways from that discussion:
- When a new product is rolled out, it takes anywhere from nine months to four years to develop, from conceptualization to finally being sold in restaurants.
- McDonald’s has reformulated a long list of their ingredients, from the Big Mac bun to nuggets, to contain less sodium.
- McDonald’s is working on a set of initiatives for their top nine and top 20 markets to be fulfilled by 2020 that include, among other things, increasing the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables that are served, as well as offering more salads and produce as options with meals.
- Taste is key. McDonald’s won’t sacrifice when it comes to taste and is completely focused on serving customers what they want and will buy.
The Arches, a full-service McDonald’s restaurant in the corporate office building.
A lot of the issues that I have with McDonald’s and our food system in general map back to the consumer. For instance, I asked Darci why McDonald’s peels the apples in their Happy Meals. (I really wish that the apples were not peeled so that my kids would at least have the option of eating better.) Darci explained that McDonald’s serves apples that way because it was the best balance they could find of serving a product that parents would feel good about giving their kids but also one that the kids would eat, based on testing prior to the product launch. Corporations as large as McDonald’s have a social responsibility and should take a leadership role, but purchasing power is also incredibly important when it comes to effecting change.
So did I learn anything new through this process? Yes. Did I get some answers that weren’t completely satisfactory? Yes. Did I get some positive answers I wasn’t expecting? Yes. Could I have asked questions all day long? You bet. And do I still believe that we, the consumers, are at the root of the food system and that we can make a difference? Yes!
Let me know in the comments section below: if you could ask the McDonald’s team one question, what would it be?
Friday, September 5
When I started this blog nearly 8 years ago, I was constantly sharing my favorite Trader Joe’s finds, much to the chagrin of those readers who didn’t have a Trader Joe’s near their home. I backed off a lot over the years, but I recently found an item that I am loving and have to tell you about. If you don’t have a TJs, my apologies. The Half-Baked Panini Rustic Rolls are AWESOME. We’ve used the rolls for pesto chicken salad sandwiches and for a variation on our caprese paninis. The bread is perfect for sandwiches, with a nice crisp exterior and chewy interior. The big bonus is that, magically, the sandwich fixings don’t squeeze out as you eat the sandwich. We LOVE this bread!
On to food links!
- On Babble: Easy and Delicious Crock Pot Teriyaki Chicken
- On Cosmo: 7 Ways to Turn Whipped Cream Into the Best Dessert Ever
That’s all from me today…what do you have to share?
Thursday, August 28
Earlier this summer I received an email from Tillamook, inviting me to visit the Tillamook cheese factory in Oregon as well as see one of their dairy farms. After a little “please pretty please can I ditch our family for three days” begging with Nate, I promptly emailed Tillamook and said YES to the invitation. We love Tillamook around our house. From the time I was a wee thing my mom taught me that Tillamook cheese was the best. Not only do I think their products are great, but I always love getting a peek into food production, so I couldn’t wait for this trip. (I want to add a little something here, copying and pasting one of the comments from one of my mom’s best friends, Jona, who is the source of our family’s loyalty! “Your mom was indoctrinated by me when she was 17, Jane. So glad you loved Tillamook and beyond. I hope you saw my grandfather’s picture in the Cheese Factory. He was one of the earliest cheesemakers back in the early 1900’s. I am so proud of that heritage.”)
Two weeks ago I flew to Portland, OR, where I arrived at what appeared to be the set for Portlandia. Oh, wait, it was just Portland. Portland IS Portlandia, in case you were wondering. I loved Portland and had a wonderful afternoon exploring and eating my way around town. A delicious lunch at Tasty n Alder, dessert at Voodoo Doughnut, and a large portion of my very short time spent at Powell’s Books, which is now on the list of my most favorite places on the planet, made for a pretty perfect day.
Let’s get down to the business at hand, shall we? Cheese! I have so much to share about Tillamook it’s almost overwhelming, so I’m going to let my pictures from the trip guide me through this post.
We headed west from Portland to Tillamook, OR. The drive was unbelievably picturesque and you can’t miss the factory once you reach town. There I am in front of the GIANT Tillamook sign with Stephanie from 52 Kitchen Adventures…she is wonderful, btw.
We of course were given a tour of the factory. Anyone can visit the factory for tours and to shop in the store, so if you’re ever in the area be sure to stop in! We also had a chance to go behind the scenes and see where the cheese is aged and stored. The facilities are quite impressive.
Have you ever noticed a boat on the Tillamook logo? Well, there it is! The ship Morning Star was used in the early days to deliver cheese up and down the coast. Obviously it’s a little landlocked now but it is just as beautiful as ever.
Part of our tour was lead by Dale Baumgartner, Tillamook Head Cheesemaker (a.k.a. the Head Cheese…that joke is irresistible). Dale has been working for Tillamook for for over 40 years and he knows his cheese. It was fascinating learning how the cheese is made today, but maybe even more interesting hearing about his early years at Tillamook. I always love talking with people who truly love their work and are such experts at what they do. It’s inspiring to me and something, quite honestly, I can’t imagine.
Want some fun cheesemaking facts? Here you go! (I stole these from the signs on the tour.)
- Each of the eight stainless steel cheese vats holds approximately 53,500 pounds of fresh milk. On average each vat makes three batches of cheese per day.
- It takes 10 pounds (1.16 gallons) of milk to make 1 pound of Tillamook cheese.
- More then 1.7 million pounds of milk arrive at the plant each day. Approximately 167,000 pounds of cheese are made each day.
In addition to learning all about how the cheese is made, we also spent part of our day with Jill Allen, Manager of Product Quality. Jill leads the sensory team, which spends all day every day tasting every single batch of everything that is made at the plant, from butter to yogurt to cheese to ice cream to sour cream. Jill was equally as fascinating to listen to, plus she let us taste all kinds of delicious things. And, in case you are wondering, her team expectorates everything they taste so that their tastebuds are as ready to go on the first bite as they are on the last. Bottom line, after everything we learned about sensory, I would absolutely not want to be on that team! I’m glad other people are up for the job!
During our session with Jill, we taste tested Tillamook products alongside leading competitors. You can even tell from this crappy indoor photo how different Tillamook’s cheddar is compared to other brands – the difference was night and day! Many factors play into this, from the quality of the milk to the water content or the cheese to the smaller blocks of cheese that are made. Great care is taken at every step in the process, making for a higher quality final product.
I think one of my favorite things we tasted that day were the cheddar cheese curds. The curds is what the cheese looks like before it’s compressed naturally into blocks. Sadly you can only buy the curds at the Tillamook factory store, which was, by the way, awesome.
That evening we drove west, where we had a view of the amazing Oregon coast.
We stayed at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, where my hotel room looked out on this:
I didn’t want to leave. But they made me, which wasn’t too hard since they gave me cute yellow boots and told me I could go look at cute baby cows. Sold!
Before we flew home, we spent the morning at one of the Tillamook dairy farms, owned by Ryan and Wendy. Tillamook is a cooperative, so the farmers all have a stake in the business. There are less than 150 farms in the co-op and they are all within a fairly short distance of the plant. And, from what we witnessed, the cows on those farms are living good lives as Tillamook employees.
Here’s the deal. We did not hear one “MOO” the entire time we were on the tour. Wendy said that cows only “moo” when they are discontent or warning other cows about something, so if they’re quiet, it pretty much means they’re happy and content.
Wendy and Ryan were gracious hosts and taught us all kinds of interesting things about being dairy farmers. I think what struck us most is how much work it is and how tied they are to the farm. It’s really hard for them to ever get away and I think they said it’s been 2 years since their last vacation. Heavens. And Ryan is up before 3:00 AM every day. I can’t even imagine.
They explained that it costs more to make high-quality milk but that Tillamook incentivizes the farmers to make high-quality milk, so it’s worth it. It is amazing how much goes into the process of milking cows twice a day. This particular farm has around 400 cattle and it costs $7/day/cow just for feed. Ryan is a 4th-generation dairy farmer, so he knows what he’s doing. He and Wendy were both incredibly relaxed and happy.
Needless to say I had a fabulous time, surrounded by wonderful people, delicious food and cute cows! I learned a lot and am so appreciative that I was able to be a part of the trip. Also, we had the chance to taste a new Tillabar flavor that is coming out next year and it is AMAZING. I’m not allowed to tell you what it is, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it hits stores!
Thank you, Tillamook!