Oregon cheesemakers are hoping a new grant will allow them to replicate the successes of the state's craft beer and wine industries.
The Oregon Cheese Guild this week received $50,400 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop and promote a statewide cheese trail linking dairies, restaurants, and cheese shops. While more than a million people annually visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory, guild board member Pete Kent says the state's smaller operations are still grappling with how to accommodate visitors on farms designed for goats and cows.
"They're in various stages of development," he says.
There are now 18 cheese production facilities in Oregon, up from three in 2006, the year the guild was founded. In addition to promoting visitation, the guild also supports safety training and educational programs, believing the spread of "know-how" will beget still more cheesemakers.
"It seems like Eastern states do have a longer history, but it's surprising how quickly this is catching on," says Kent, who serves as executive director of the Oregon Dairy Products Commission. "It's growing along the same lines as beer and wine."
The cheese industry is consciously modeling itself after the beer and wine industries by appealing to agritourists and stressing regionalism in its materials.
"Oregon is known for its pastures," Kent says. "The cheeses take on that sense of place."