Fancy assorted cheese boards, cheese-topped entrees, desserts filled with cream cheese, and those cheesy photos of your family in matching Christmas pajamas that Grandma always requests… it’s true! The holiday season wouldn’t be as magical without the many blessings of cheese! Thankfully in All West Territory, we have the luxury of enjoying locally produced cheese all year long at Hilmar Cheese Company.
As dairy producers, you seem to get even busier during the holiday season, and the same is true for those producing the end product of cheese. Between milk shipments coming in, cheese being made, and systems being sanitized 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there are no days off for the company’s dedicated team members. Approximately 230 quality producers, including some of our own All West/Select Sires customers, ship their milk directly to either the California or Texas facilities.
This also creates a busy schedule of activities to enjoy for the local community and visiting tourists as they pass through California’s central valley on their holiday travels. Friendly staff and delicious aromas make the Hilmar Cheese Visitor’s Center a great place to enjoy the holiday season, complete with a beautifully decorated gift shop and café where visitors can sample many of the dairy products Hilmar is famous for. For years, Hilmar Cheese has been known as the only place where customers can buy fresh cheese curds, commonly called “Squeakers”. The viewing window in the visitor’s center is also the only place where you can see a 640-pound block of cheese be produced, before it is cut into retail sizes! However, 2018 brought more one-of-a-kind additions to Hilmar Cheese, making it an even more worthwhile experience.
Hilmar Cheese Company’s Director of Education and Public Relations, Denise Skidmore, recently shared some of the company’s latest offerings with us. The first and most eye-catching of all is the largest dairy mural in the U.S., and possibly the world, that was painted on the Hilmar Cheese Visitor’s Center. The 32 ft. tall by 60 ft. wide mural depicts the company’s founding principles of farmers, family, community and faith, and its passion for Jersey cows. It also depicts a child’s journey from experiencing the Visitor Center as a youth and showing cows to discovering her devotion to dairy and pursuing a career in dairy innovation and research. Hilmar was chosen by the Center for U.S. Dairy as one of seven locations across the nation to feature a custom mural as part of the Undeniably Dairy campaign. “It took two muralists approximately ten long days to paint,” Denise shared. “We are all very pleased with the beautiful end product.”
Another recent addition to the Hilmar Cheese Visitor’s Center is an AgXscape Room which first opened during June Dairy Month. What was simply a storage room near the café, has been transformed in to the first dairy themed escape room challenge activity. The room is designed to resemble a dairy producer’s office on the farm, complete with framed cow photos and awards, Hoard’s Dairyman magazines, and even a semen tank! Teams are challenged to unlock vaccinations from a unit by completing various tasks in the role of a dairy farmer. The goal is to retrieve the vaccinations and be unlocked from the escape room at a faster time than the team before. “This is meant to be a fun, fully-immersive experience, while teaching visitors more about the life of dairy producers,” said Denise.
Not all of the newest additions have been fun and games. The Cheese Technical Team has been working hard on several advancements in processing. Their latest research resulted in a new cook-able whole milk cheese, now sold at the Visitor’s Center as Artisan Cookables. This cheese comes in two flavors, Original and Spicy, and can be grilled, fried or seared to make a variety of tasty snacks including cheese sandwiches, cheese fries, and even cheese churros.
These additions have certainly created some new excitement at Hilmar Cheese this year, but they also continued with their annual holiday season traditions. Each Veteran’s Day Weekend, Hilmar Cheese kicks off the holiday season with their Annual Holiday Open House, complete with samples of gourmet food and wine, gift shopping, and even photos with Santa and their spokescow, Daisy! Throughout the season, the Visitor’s Center offers Holiday Ice Cream Making Tours, which allow young students who are on holiday vacation from school, as well as families visiting the area for the holiday, to enjoy a tour, movie and exhibits followed by the homemade ice cream making activity. Dates and times for this activity throughout Christmas and New Years can be found on their website.
As the holiday season comes to an end, Hilmar Cheese Company is already looking forward to their busy spring season of school tours. “Public education about the dairy industry is very important to us,” said Denise. Last year, Hilmar Cheese welcomed over 17,000 students to tour their facility. Various tours are designed for all school ages. From learning milk’s journey from farm to table and making ice cream, to exploring science lessons while making their own cheese, students get hands-on experience in the Undeniably Dairy classroom. Denise reminds the local community and visitors alike that the tours are not only available for school students, but for 4-H and other general public groups as well. She recommends reserving class sessions for the spring season as soon as possible.
These are just a few of the new and exciting additions that continue to make Hilmar Cheese Company so special. One of their most unique values is spotted right on the retail shelves, as many other brands of cheese and local products are sold alongside Hilmar Cheese labels. “We strongly value not only representing our own brand for our producers, but supporting and promoting the dairy industry as a whole,” said Denise.
What was started in 1984 by 12 local Jersey dairy farming families is now one of the leading cheese and whey manufacturers in the world. Much has changed for the facility and industry as a whole, but Hilmar Cheese Company still strives to maximize the value of their Jersey cows’ high solids milk. The early values of these families, as well as heavy investment in research, the latest technology, and staff excellence are what continue to grow the privately held company today.
If you haven’t already visited Hilmar Cheese, be sure to end your very “dairy” Christmas season with an experience for all ages… and maybe even a “Squeaker” or two!
To learn more about Hilmar Cheese Company, visit them at www.hilmarcheese.com.