We took a trip of about 20 minutes from her house to visit the Hilmar Cheese Factory, in Hilmar, CA. I have an entire photo set posted on my Flickr page HERE . but within this blog I'll post a couple of teasers. ;-)
Now, I'll tell you a few things about the place. Hilmar is in the Central Valley of California, and it does get hot in the summer. The surrounding area is largely dairy farms, making it the perfect site for a cheese-making plant.
This place is huge! As we approached on August road from the south side, there were a good dozen city-blocks (I'm guessing) or more of storage silos, buildings, pipe works and equipment. At the west end was a long line of milk tanker trucks waiting their turn to enter the gate and deliver their loads.
From the parking lot, the main building visible is the visitor center, which houses a small part of the cheese-making operation, a retail store with gourmet sauces and spreads, wines, and a few souvenir knick-knacks to keep kids happy.
The other end of the visitor center includes a huge deli-cafe with a wonderful variety of scrumptious sandwiches available, an enormous array of their own cheeses, plus some selected gourmet cheeses from other makers. The cafe section has many tables at which to enjoy your meal, then you can top it off with an ice cream cone or a fresh iced latte.
(You can also choose to eat al fresco at patio tables; that is, depending which way the breeze is blowing, and if you don't mind the--uhh--"aroma" of the surrounding dairy farms wafting across your nose as you eat).
Most of the exhibits are oriented toward children, as the place is popular with school field-trip groups. At the far end of this floor are three large viewing windows, through which you can look down into one small room of the operation.
Also on the second floor is space for banquets and receptions, as Hilmar Cheese also does catering. But don't look for Hilmar Cheese in your local grocery. You won't find it. Well, you might, but not under that label. Hilmar Cheese is a mass-market wholesaler of cheeses, and their customers package the cheese under their own labels. So, you may have had Hilmar Cheese before without even knowing it. ;-) The only place you can purchase their own label is here, at the factory.
Continuing north and west, behind and on the opposite side of the waterfall and grotto are picnic areas. Across from that, to the west, is more of the plant. It is so large, it would not fit into one shot on the camera. I took plenty of photos all around, which I had failed to do on my prior visit about 3 years back.
At that point, it was time to head back and collect the elder granddaughter from school. She was not at all upset at having missed out on the trip, as mom brought her some goodies, and she had also been promised a trip of her own in the near future. She, too, has been there before on several occasions, so it is not as if she was truly 'cheated.'
Click here for a Map of the location, and you can visit their website at: http://www.hilmarcheese.com
It's a fun and (shhh!!! don't tell the kids!!) educational idea for a day trip this summer.