We wandered into Blue Heron first. Located right off the main road, it's a converted farm that offers multiple free samples of cheese, jams, jellies, and cracker spreads. Naturally, we had to taste them all. Starting with the brie at the counter the girl working told us about the basics of how the cheese is made, different things they add to spice it up, pepper and garlic and the like, and spread generous samples on bits of bread for us to try. It was roughly the equivalent to a sampler bread plate at a fancy restaurant, free to anyone who walks in and asks. Next we tried some jams ranging from sweet to spicy and everything in between. I think there were ten or so options. Then on to the spreads, which were spiced packets that are mixed at home with cream cheese. Then some jellies. We saw the barbecue sauces AND read the sign warning us to wait until after we did we a wine tasting to avoid interference with the palette. Good advice, that.
Blue Heron provides a tasting of local and french wines, some of which are their own. Tillamook is located too near the coast to grow the grapes, but their vineyard is only an hour away. Fun fact: area hotels typically have a little advertisement for Blue Heron tasting, free for one person. We had such a coupon not realizing it was only for one person, but they offered to let us share the tasting. The coupon was for 3 free tastings, and after that we opted to buy another 5 tastings for $10 (which we split again, they were super nice about it and not snooty like some places). We bought a bottle of their XXXX and some spicy spreads for stocking stuffers before heading out into the small petting zoo. The whole experience is very family friendly, with a small restaurant serving their cheeses in various forms and an ice creamery onsite. We came for the wine and cheese but were impressed with the overall vibe of the place. Just very pleasant.
Just a mile or so north on highway 101 is the Tillamook Cheese Factory. If you're looking for a transparent view of the cheese process, this is your stop. The entire factory floor is viewable from second floor windows and there are helpful placards all around that detail interesting facts. There are dual lines to try free samples and a lovely little country store selling t-shirts and other tourist chotskies, plus a big ice cream parlor with great flavors such as Fireside S'mores, Marionberry Pie, Mountain Huckleberry, and of course the less exciting but always satisfying Udderly Chocolate.
The free samples at both places are plenty to tide you over until lunch or dinner. Each had it's own unique charm but Blue Heron perfected the down-home-on-the-farm country store vibe. Tillamook was a literal factory, mass producing cheese for the cooperative of farmers supplying it. Both cheeses were good but brie pairs better with wine and coupled with the decor, Blue Heron was the clear winner of our cheese tasting experience.
Disclaimer: As always, our reviews are our own, honest opinions and may differ from yours.