Every time we head down to our cabin, we drive through Jerome, ID – home of the Jerome Cheese Company. This place is huge, and is very visible from the freeway. It may sound odd, but during one of our drives, my wife and I started brainstorming about what we could do to break up the trip so the kids would get a little less antsy. So we decided to schedule a tour of the cheese factory.
I mean, after all…. do you know exactly how they make cheese?
So today I drove down again with just my kids, and we stopped for a tour. Turns out that they have tours come through all the time – sometimes just families like us, other times classes from school, and sometimes they have huge tour buses that stop for a peek. Who would have thought.
Turns out, there is good reason for their popularity. This is one of the largest cheese manufacturing facilities in the nation – they take in 6,000,000 gallons of milk *every day*, and turn it into 600,000 lbs of cheese. As the tour guide said: “The cows don’t ever get a vacation from making milk, so we don’t ever get a vacation from making cheese. The last time we had a down day was in 1986.” This boggled my mind…. that is, until he took us through the various areas of the production floor to see the process in action.
Now, I was warned by several friends and relatives that there are 2 things you should never see made: Cheese and sausage. However, seeing how they made cheese here was pretty cool – and there were no stinky smells to speak of. First we saw the huge pasteurizing room where they make sure the cheese won’t kill you. Next we saw the 11 cylindrical vats nearly the size of my house where they actually mix the milk with the enzymes and other goodies to turn it into cheese. Then moved on to the separation room where the finished cheese is separated from the other stuff in the milk (whey, water, other proteins, etc). Next we watched the huge presses that form 40 lb blocks of the finished cheese and spit it out into a bag for packaging. We then followed along the conveyor belt through the cooling room (brr!) to where another machine stuffed these huge blocks of cheese into a cardboard box. Next we moved to see this gigantic robot arm stack up a pallet of these 40 lb blocks that was 5 rows tall of 9 blocks per row – and it did it in < 1 minute. The guide explained to me that depending on the customer, the robot arm could stack all different configurations – some customers prefer to have the boxes rotated a certain way. Others prefer that the center of the pallet is left open so that air can flow between the boxes, etc. Finally we saw the huge machine that wraps the finished pallets with the biggest roll of saran wrap I’ve ever seen, then a forklift hauled them off to await shipping.
He said that start to finish takes a little over 3 hours / huge vat of milk to produce shippable cheese blocks on a pallet ready to go. Pretty amazing.
The kids thought it was great, and the guide was really good with showing them what was going on and explaining it so that they would understand. Everyone we saw was friendly, and we had a great time.
Kudos to the Jerome Cheese Company for showing us how they do what they do so well.
Oh, and we got to wear hairnets!