Jill Allen has loved the land since an early age.
Born and raised not far from Tillamook, an area populated by more cows than people, she was active in Future Farmers of America and studied agricultural business at Oregon State University. After college she married a dairy farmer and laid down roots in Tillamook, where she now lives on a farm with her husband and three children.
Allen’s family is also one of nearly 100 farmer owners that make up the Tillamook County Creamery Association co-op. Some of the farmer owners, in fact, are great-great-great grandchildren of their pioneer founders.
For the past 16 years, Allen has lent her dairy expertise to the 107-year-old Tillamook County Creamery Association, where she is the Research, Development and Sensory Manager — meaning she tastes and develops cheese, ice cream, yogurt, butter and sour cream for a living.
Here, however, the products we know and love to sample at the Tillamook Cheese Factory are judged on much more than just deliciousness. It’s got to look good, smell good and feel good too.
For instance, for their new pint of Chocolate Covered Strawberry Farmstyle Gelato, “We take a specially made giant knife and cut the tub (of ice cream) down the middle,” she describes. “We evaluate how the ingredients are layered through the body of the ice cream.”
Allen works in the sensory lab and Research and Development Kitchen, which are housed within the Tillamook factory walls.
Last year Tillamook launched its “Dairy Done Right” campaign, taking a stand against artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners as well as artificial growth hormones. The dairy brand has always been committed to aging their cheese naturally, sourcing fresh, local fruit from the Pacific Northwest and proudly displaying it in their products. Their ice cream sandwiches, “Tillamookies,” use real butter and brown sugar and no high fructose corn syrup. Their cheddar is natural, unlike other processed cheese products. They’ve used the same cheddar cheese recipe for 107 years.
“The campaign has turned into a philosophy for the organization,” Allen says. “We treat it as a guiding light. We live by that.”
Today, nearly one million visitors make the trip to the Tillamook Cheese Factory for the free, self-guided tours, the cheese samples and the chance to watch and smell the heavenly waffle cone making in action while in line for an ice cream cone.
Allen says it’s a lot of fun to do what she loves every day, but it’s far different from sampling a handful of cheese at the Factory during a visit. With up to 500 samples per day on her team’s plate, it takes discipline. “We do not consume it,” she says. “The palate would become very tired. You’re a trained piece of equipment. We have to be consistent day in and day out.”
That especially holds true at the national and international cheese and dairy contests she regularly judges each year. Out on the circuit, she gets a peek at the latest innovations, as well as old-school traditions. Tillamook, she says, combines the best of both.
For new flavors, “We look at consumer and chef trends and what’s popular on Pinterest and well as taking inspiration from the ingredients here in the Pacific Northwest,” Allen says. “Once we get into the kitchen and start mixing things, you never know what will occur.”