If you are really old, you may remember Olympia Beer and the tagline “It’s the Water.” Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman and Clint Eastwood are a few of the stars who were pictured onscreen drinking Olympia. It also was my Uncle Roger’s favorite beverage. The brewery advertised its product as being brewed using water from artesian wells.

Olympia and Rainer breweries both shut down long ago.

Olympia was purchased by Heileman which was purchased by Stroh which was purchased by Pabst which was purchased by Miller which was purchased by SAB, now known as SABMiller, which was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev who sold the Miller brands to Molson Coors who sold Pabst, including the Olympia brand to the private-equity group TSG who contracts the brewing of Olympia Beer to MillerCoors.

Rainier, despite of some truly great commercials (easy to find on YouTube) was purchased by Heileman which was purchased by… well, see the preceding paragraph. The brand is now owned by something called General Brewing Company who contracts the brewing of Rainier Beer to MillerCoors. Rainier now competes with Pabst Blue Ribbon as the ironically-hip cheap beer.

Long ago, when I lived in Seattle , I went on the Rainier Brewery tour. Someone asked the tour guide where Rainier got its water. The guide’s answer: Seattle city water system and appended his answer by declaring that there wasn’t an artesian well in the world that could supply the volume needed by arch-rival Olympia down the road in Tumwater.

So what does this have to do with Tillamook Cheese?

After a year in Seattle, I spent the next decade on the Oregon coast, not far from the Tillamook Cheese factory. Dairy farmers on the northern Oregon coast formed a cooperative in 1909 that would become the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA).

Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Oregon.

Although I drove by the factory on Highway 101 countless times, I never took the tour.

Tillamook cheese, ice cream and other Tillamook-branded dairy products are sold throughout the country. Tillamook has stepped up promotion of its name in recent years. It has also aggressively gone after anyone using the Tillamook name. The Tillamook Country Smoker had to fight off legal attacks by the creamery in 2004, trying to stop their using the name even though they had been making jerky in the city and county of Tillamook for more than thirty years.

A few years earlier TCCA bought the cooperative cheese maker in the southern Oregon coastal town Bandon. The Bandon brand was well-known in the state. They shut down the factory and warned other local businesses against using the name “Bandon.”

TCCA opened a shiny new visitor center a couple years ago. It tells their story in a with folksy exhibits and emphasis given to how well the co-op members treat their cows.

I finally took the now-self-guided tour. At the end, near the sampling station, before the café and gift shop, was an information panel, one among many, with an interesting oh-by-the-way statistic. The Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook produces significantly less cheese than the Tillamook plant 230 miles away in the eastern Oregon town of Boardman.

Like Olympia’s artesian wells, it seems the hundred or so TCCA dairy farms in Tillamook County can’t supply enough milk meet the demand for cheese and ice cream. Situated near the ocean amongst lush greenery, Tillamook also has the disadvantage of being miles and miles of mountain roads away from a major highway. Boardman, on the other hand, sits adjacent to Interstate 84 and is also served by rail and water transportation. (Which explains why a larger-than-mammoth WalMart distribution center is nearby.)

The Boardman plant does without a visitors center, not as many vacationers there as on the coast. What it nearby are cows, lots of cows. One of its former suppliers, the Lost Valley Dairy farm, recently was shut down by the state of Oregon after repeated environmental violations. Authorities are trying to figure out what to do with thirty-million gallons of manure, 15,000 cows’ worth. (TCCA cut ties with Lost Valley a year ago because of this.)

Tillamook Cheese Factory in Boardman, Oregon.

Legislators are pondering a bill that would put a moratorium on so-called mega-dairies, operations of more than 2,500 cows, and require studies on the local environmental impact before a permit is issued.

Fun fact: there are 228 dairy farms in Oregon; there were 720 in 2006, 1,900 in 1992.

The state’s largest dairy, Threemile Canyon Farms, also in Boardman and also a Tillamook supplier, has 25,000 dairy cows. Besides milk it produces agricultural products, organic and conventional, both people food and livestock feed. Its web site offers much detail about its sustainable farming and dairy as well as its animal welfare practices. It has set aside wildlife habitat area managed by the Nature Conservancy.

I think I’ll go see if there’s still some Tillamook Caramel Butter Pecan ice cream left in the freezer.

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  1. Being an old, ageing, overthehill ex=motorcyclist I have fond memories of the Rainier TV ad with a night shot from a distance of a dark mountain road and then you first hear the sound of a motorcycle, then you see its light and it rounds a bend and, as it fades in the distance the doppler sound of the retreating exhaust note sounds just like rrrrainearrrrrr..My favorit Oly ad had to do with the old guy who was the groundskeeper at Tumwater and he was always talking about the Artesians that lived on the grounds.

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