Restaurant news: A delicious detour in Oregon reveals cheesy delights

A trip to Oregon on Amtrak yielded unexpected culinary delights.

Those who may recall past columns know my fondness for riding Amtrak to find and report on great food.

My plan with siblings — to take Amtrak back and forth to Corvallis and visit the Oregon State University area — to commemorate our father, Robert Keesling, morphed into an unexpected opportunity to eat local Oregon products.

Dad was an OSU alumni, forest husbandry his degree. We’d hoped to visit the Andrew’s Experimental Forest, where our dad spent his summers in the lookout. Forest fires are still actively burning so we went to plan B, and extensively explored the campus area where he lived and studied.

Our plans were very fluid, given challenges like the fire and the fact that local rental car agencies were closed on weekends. We wound up with a block of time before we turned in the vehicle and hopped on our train Monday, to return to Seattle.

Always looking for interesting places to visit, we discovered a local cheese factory that appeared to be located right in Albany, where we’d be board a train later that afternoon.

A phone call to schedule a tour revealed the factory had moved north to Salem. We motored to the location and enjoyed the tour of their facility, plus a robust menu served during the lunch hour. Perfect! An opportunity to taste the Oaxaca cheese produced on-site.

The name of the facility: Don Froylan.

Owner and cheese maker Francisco Ochoa explained: “The family decided to make our father’s dream of producing the products he’d make in their home, a reality.”

In 2003 and after lots of hard work, they opened the creamery and chose their brand name to be Don Froylan in loving memory of their dad.

Ochoa is proud — and rightly so. The Salem Chamber of Commerce awarded the facility “Manufacturer of the Year” in 2023.

The company is the only string-cheese producer in Oregon. The cheese makers hand-stretch over 8,000 pounds of Oaxaca every week.

One can watch them make Queso Oaxaca, Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We’ve been in production for almost 20 years,” Ochoa said.

Since 2003, the company moved twice from a very small facility in Eugene to a medium-size facility in Albany and is currently located in Salem — it’s a warehouse, production area and a restaurant.

Ochoa walked us through the process of producing the queso.

“Step one is the raw milk, from local Oregon dairies,” he said. He added that Don Froylan processes 8,000 gallons of the milk into 8,000 pounds of cheese and 8,000 gallons of whey.

Ochoa said the flavor of cheese “is affected by what the cows graze on: pasture in the summer, stored grains and alfalfa in the winter.”

The production process

Cheese makers are handling about 1,500 pounds of cheese in each batch. This facility is one of very few that still hand-stretch cheese in the U.S.

Pictured are the steps involved and a shot of the cheeses aging for a brief time before being packaged and sold at retail.

Watching the cheese makers wrestle the long ropes of cheese made me glad to be on the outside of the glass. The workers wear layers of protective gear, switched out to fresh outer layers each time an artisan leaves the immediate area, looking exhausted and having worked up their appetites. I could imagine these guys were the best customers at the café portion of the facility.

Products produced include Queso Oaxaca, the hand-stretched Mexican-style mozzarella; Queso Asadero, an un-aged Monterey Jack; Queso Fontanero, the Monterey Jack with jalapeño and cilantro; and Queso Oaxaca with chipotle and Asadero con habanero … for those who like it hot.

This cheese is available in local stores: PCC Community Markets, Town & Country Markets, and some bigger stores such as QFC and Fred Meyer.

So: the food! At the Fresh Bar, one can order quesadillas, nachos or burritos, made with various cheeses and condiments as well as purchase fresh product to take home. (Amtrak travel meant we could indulge in purchases to share at home.)

The menu offered various kinds of tortillas, including a tender, hand-stretched variety from masa (corn flour). One can choose the cheese, types of proteins and various condiments can be added to the items.

A robust selection of animal proteins all are grilled onsite as well, or vegetarian rice and beans with the preferred cheese added. Items are well seasoned without too much spice to send one looking for the water fountain.

Warning — the burritos are huge and a meal in themselves. Restraint called for us to share one of these beauties between the three of us because we’d noticed the dessert offered in the freezer display.

Rain prevented us from enjoying the outdoor seating and lovely garden plantings. We marveled at the care for the grounds, which made the visit delightful for all of our senses.

I could not pet a real cow, but the life-sized Holstein at the door offered a final chance for a photo to commemorate the visit.

We returned to Albany and had a nice nap to sleep off our delicious adventure on the Amtrak back to Seattle.

— Story and photos by Kathy Passage
Former Restaurant News columnist Kathy Passage lives in Edmonds.

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