Oregon has long been a magnet for makers and artisans of many kinds. Among them are chocolatiers, cheesemakers, specialty fruit and nut growers and manufacturers of everything from colorful blankets to organic flour. Many of these makers open their doors to visitors, providing insightful behind-the-scenes tours and opportunities for tasting and learning how the products are made.
“We are a place of tasters, makers and adventurers,” said James Jessie, senior vice president of convention sales for Travel Portland. “A lot of our meetings business comes from groups that are oriented toward manufacturing and crafting. They are a natural fit for us.”
One of Portland’s most popular places to enjoy tasting and touring is Creo Chocolate, which makes small-batch chocolate bars using ingredients such as 70 percent cocoa and organic evaporated cane juice.
“We source our cacao directly from the farmer and make our finished chocolate directly from the bean,” said owner Tim Straub.
The Straub family opened their business in 2015 in a vintage 1924 building where an open workspace makes it easy for visitors to see the work in progress. The tasting room offers samples of freshly made chocolate, chocolate drinks and other products.
Along with tours of the chocolate-making process, Creo offers workshops that can be used for teambuilding activities. These include Make a Bar and Chocolate 101, interactive experiences where participants first learn how cacao is grown and then how to winnow and prep beans for processing and craft their own personalized chocolate bars.
Another source for flavorful learning experiences is at Bob’s Red Mill, which makes stone-ground flours, cereals and other whole-grain products at its headquarters nine miles southeast of Portland in Milwaukee. Owners Bob and Charlee Moore started their business in the 1960s, using centuries-old practices in which quartz millstones grind at slow speeds in order to retain the nutrients and flavors of the grains.
Tours of the manufacturing facility, which can be arranged for groups, enable visitors to watch the action of a working mill and learn about the process and story of how a small family business grew into a worldwide concern. There’s also a Whole Grain Store, bakery and restaurant on-site. In addition, Bob’s Red Mill offers cooking classes and demonstrations by guest chefs on a variety of themes.
Tillamook creamery, Tillamook
Oregon’s official state nut is celebrated at Pacific Hazelnut Farms & Candy Factory in Aurora, an antique-filled town midway between Portland and Salem. During tours of the small facility, participants learn about hazelnut harvesting, their nutritional benefits and other facts. Tours end at the retail store where visitors can taste and purchase roasted hazelnuts, chocolate covered nuts and other products.
Just as Oregon’s temperate climate and water quality make it ideal for beermaking, they also make it conducive for brewing soy sauce. In Salem, the Yamasa Soy Sauce Factory is the place to learn about this Japanese condiment. Tours start with a background video and then give visitors a view of the steps involved, a process that takes six months of fermentation using soybeans, wheat and sea salt. The tour includes a goody bag of soy and teriyaki sauce for each visitor.
Oregon’s most famous dairy products come from the Tillamook Creamery, which has been run by a farmers’ cooperative called the Tillamook Creamery Association since 1909. Drawing over a million visitors a year, it’s a major attraction in the northern Oregon coastal region about 70 miles from Portland.
Harry & David, Medford
Last summer the creamery opened a new visitors center featuring interactive exhibits and an expanded viewing area where visitors can observe the cheese processing and packing operations. The center also includes a theater, small room available for private events, retail store, ice cream parlor and cafe serving wood-fired pizzas and other cheesy dishes.
Southern and Central Oregon
Known for gift boxes of premium pears as well as decadent treats like chocolate truffles, baklava, cheesecake and Moose Munch popcorn, Harry & David is a visitor attraction in Medford. Harry & David offers scheduled and customized group tours of its company headquarters, which depart from its retail store located next to the Medford Convention Center. Participants traverse a catwalk through the enormous packing facility, bakery and candy kitchen, learning about the company’s 83-year history and watching culinary teams create signature desserts and assemble mail-order gourmet gift towers. The tours include a bakery treat and a chocolate.
In downtown Bend, Goody’s Chocolate and Ice Cream offers guided group tours of a working factory that makes over 100 sweet treats, including gourmet chocolates, caramel corn, toffee and ice cream.
One of Oregon’s oldest companies, Pendleton Woolen Mills has turned out highly prized blankets, robes and apparel in an array of colorful Native American-inspired designs for over 140 years. Groups can schedule tours of the headquarters in Pendleton, observing the entire process of how fleece is transformed into intricate jacquard blankets and other items. A small on-site museum details the history of the company, starting with the story of a young English weaver named Thomas Kay, who began making woolen products in Oregon in 1863.
In its latest development, Pendleton opened its flagship store in downtown Portland last summer, Pendleton at Park Avenue West. Along with merchandise and information on company history, the store pays homage to Oregon’s maker culture with fixtures, signage and decorative elements made by local artisans.