Hilmar Cheese Company
Courtesy of Hilmar Cheese Company

Hilmar Cheese Company

Hilmar Cheese Company
Learn how to make cheese at this “little secret” in the Central Valley

Most people are surprised to discover that California is the country’s second largest cheese-producing state. In the Central Valley town of Hilmar, you can taste some of the state’s best offerings at Hilmar Cheese Company, a perfect stop for Yosemite National Park-bound travellers and anyone driving along State Highway 99. Its impressive visitors center has a gourmet gift shop, while a cafe takes full advantage of Hilmar’s pepper jack and Cheddar in grilled cheese sandwiches and such favourites as a cheese chowder soup.

“It’s one of the best-kept little secrets,” says Denise Skidmore, Hilmar’s director of education and public relations. “In this day and age, people want to learn more about food and agriculture and the farmers that raise their food. Our tours help visitors better understand how farmers are taking care of their cows and the land.”

Even if you don’t know Hilmar by name, there’s a good chance you’ve tasted one of the dozens of cheeses the company makes. That’s because Hilmar is a wholesale manufacturer that sells to food service firms and companies that market cheeses under their own labels.

From a modest start in 1984 by 12 dairy farmers who raised Jersey cows (the breed is famous for yielding high quantities of milk), Hilmar has grown into the world’s largest single-site cheese processor. The facility now sprawls over 40 acres, and the company receives its milk from 200 local, family-owned farms.

Take a free guided or self-guided tour for a great introduction to Hilmar’s cheesemaking process. Depending on the production schedule, you may even get to see workers packing 640-pound chunks of cheese for shipping. (On certain days, Hilmar also offers a tasty ice-cream-making tour.) At the end of the tours, there are free tastings of Hilmar cheeses, including a delicacy available only at the factory: fresh curds known as cheese squeakers.

“The squeakers are chewy and a little salty and haven’t developed a strong cheese flavour yet,” says Skidmore. “And yes, they actually squeak when you eat them!”  

Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_HERO_CV_PacificStar_UPick3_Flippen_1280x642_sized
Laura Flippen

Central California

Discover the Central Valley

Hilmar Cheese Company vca_maps_centralvalley
25
June
Average (°C)
June - Aug
36°
High
16°
Low
Sept - Nov
32°
High
6°
Low
June - Aug
36°
High
16°
Low
Mar - May
28°
High
7°
Low

California’s heartland offers up one of the state’s most authentic and sensory-rich experiences, a chance to see—and taste—the state’s bounty at every turn. Follow oak-shaded country roads to farm stands overflowing with fresh produce, and meander along wine trails to some of the state’s most productive vineyards and low-key tasting rooms.

Peaches, plums, apricots, and tomatoes—just some of the ultra-fresh produce you will find at farm stands throughout the valley.

Throughout the broad valley, stretching for over 400 miles/644 kilometers down the middle of the state, are cities and towns rich with history, international culture, and “everyone’s welcome” charm. 

Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_D_CV_T7_IMG_7643_1280x642
Lake Berryessa, located just outside of Winters, has a sunken city underneath it called Monticello.
SPECIAL FEATURE
Harvest season is a time of celebration (and good eats) in California’s agricultural heartland.

Home to many signature festivals and events, the Central Valley shines brightest around harvest season.

"After all, this is one of the world’s most bountiful agricultural

...
Hilmar Cheese Company Test_SpecialFeature#14D59DC
Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_D_CV_T11_CV_Davis_FarmersMkt_Farnum_sized
Alex Farnum

Davis

You don’t have to be a student to enjoy the perks of this ag-oriented college town

Eco-friendly, liberal leaning, progressive, impressive professor’s homes and fraternity houses—Davis has the hallmarks of a classic college...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini Ufos. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_SI_FarmersMarket_T4_CV_DavisFrmMkt1_Flippen_preview_686x885
Laura Flippen
Hilmar Cheese Company HagginMuseum_CV
Laura Flippen

Haggin Museum

Local history merges with world-renowned art at this must-see museum in Stockton’s Victory Park

Housed in an early-19th-century brick building, this handsome art and history museum is the centerpiece of Stockton’s stately Victory Park. The 34...

Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_TI_7_Hero_CV_SunflowerField_Flippen.jpg_1280-sized_downsized_0
Laura Flippen

Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

California's Heartland

Pick fresh produce, relax in cool gardens, and learn about local farming heritage
Hilmar Cheese Company SundialBridge_1280x642

This relaxed city has some secret gems that make a pleasing start to your trip. Start at Sundial Bridge, a functional work of art, the remarkable pedestrian bridge, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, spans the tree-lined, trout-filled Sacramento River in Redding’s Turtle...

Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_D_CV_T9_Buck Owens Crystal Palace 4_sized

This rapidly growing city in the southern Central Valley is full of pleasant surprises. Once known for oil and agriculture, Bakersfield is morphing into a Central Valley hub for arts, culture, and sports, while still offering a glimpse of the region’s past. One fascinating historical site worth...

Hilmar Cheese Company GreyLodge_KG_1280x642
Kodiak Greenwood

Gray Lodge Wildlife Area

Map of Shasta Cascade
Some 300 species of birds and mammals make this a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts

Located on the Pacific Flyway 60 miles north of Sacramento, Gray Lodge encompasses 9,200 acres surrounded by agricultural flatlands and...

Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_D_CV_T7_IMG_7643_sized_0
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Houseboating

Take to the water on a deluxe floating home

In California, it’s hard to talk about houseboating without talking about the Central Valley. One of the state’s premier places for vacationing in...

Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_D_CV_T2_Delta_Manley_sized
Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

California Delta

A boater’s and fisherman’s paradise awaits

Located northeast of the San Francisco Bay, this 1,000-mile network of inland waterways—the major drainage from the snow-capped Sierra Nevada to...

Lodi Wine Country
Dale Goff Photography

Lodi Wine Country

Sample the city’s famous Zinfandels after a day of outdoor fun

Best known for big red wines, particularly old-vine Zinfandels, the American Viticultural Area of...

Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_D_CV_T8_Fresno_Manley_downsized
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Fresno

Discover agriculture and culture in the valley's biggest city

The Central Valley’s largest city makes for a surprisingly lively getaway. Seven stadiums and a pair of arenas satisfy sporty types, and an annual...

Hilmar Cheese Company FF_VCW_D_CV_T8_Fresno_Manley
The 10 acres of rooms, passages and gardens at Fresno's Forestiere Underground Gardens were excavated by hand using only farming tools.
Hilmar Cheese Company VCW_D_CV_T9_Buck Owens Crystal Palace 4_sized
Courtesy of Buck Owens Crystal Palace

Bakersfield

Experience California’s oil-rich history, with Basque food and country western music on the side

This rapidly growing city in the southern Central Valley is full of pleasant surprises. Once known for oil and...

Hilmar Cheese Company VC_NoriegaHotel_Stock_RM_E93GP0_RT_1280x640
Ian Dagnall/Alamy

Bakersfield's Noriega Hotel

California's Central Valley
This classic Basque restaurant is a must-try in Bakersfield

When Spaniards began descending on Bakersfield in the 1800s, searching for gold and herding sheep, they brought with them an...

Hilmar Cheese Company VC_SolanoCounty_Stock_RM_BH5GAT_1280x640
Derrell McCain/Alamy

Best Kept Secret: Solano County

See why this Central Valley region holds its own in terms of good wine, pretty countryside, and cool activities

A treasure awaits about 20 miles east of Napa, in a lovely but largely “secret” area of sprawling countryside and bayfront beauty. This is...