Since 1998, the Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center has educated travelers and locals alike about the benefits of the California dairy industry. In the midst of the well-known tourist attraction’s 20th anniversary, the facility on Friday celebrated its selection as one of seven locations across the nation to receive a mural that showcases just how deep Hilmar’s dairy roots are.
Hilmar Cheese Company’s commitment to show people how cheese is made started when the organization first began producing cheese in 1985. From a window in the reception area that allowed guests to see into the processing center to the small, refrigerated case where visitors could purchase cheese, it was clear from the beginning that the company enjoyed sharing its passion with the public.
Construction on the Visitor Center was completed in 1998, providing a place for people to connect to today’s modern food production and experience hands-on activities, like ice cream making. Since then, the center has welcome more than 100,000 guests each year, including 16,000 students who participate in school field trips to Hilmar Cheese.
The Visitor Center actively encourages the public to partake in interactive displays that feature hands-on exhibits about cows, dairies and cheesemaking, and thanks to free public visitor center tours, guests can learn about the different career options available in the dairy industry and even watch Hilmar Cheese Company employees package the “big cheese” — a 640-pound crate of cheese.
The center’s indisputable devotion to educating the public about dairy recently caught the eye of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s “Undeniably Dairy” campaign, which aims to increase consumer trust in the practices, principles and people behind the dairy products they see in the grocery store. With the help of several artists, the Undeniably Dairy campaign selected seven different locations throughout the nation to receive murals that tell the story of dairy’s heritage — one of family, hard work, respect for the cows and the land that helps the industry thrive.
The Visitor Center was selected along with several other famous locations to be sponsored for a mural, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Pizza Hut Headquarters in Dallas, Texas and Schreiber Foods in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Undeniably Dairy hired artist Ed Trask of Richmond, Virginia, to complete the Visitor Center’s mural, which features Hilmar FFA and 4-H members, Hilmar Cheese employees, different products that the organization produces and, of course, a Jersey cow.
“The inspiration for the mural was from conversations with three generations of Hilmar Cheese Company owners and what is important to them,” said Hilmar Cheese director of education and public relations Denise Skidmore. “And the blue ribbon ties it all together.”
The mural is a large one, and at 32 feet tall and 60 feet wide, the work of art is the largest dairy mural in the country, said Hilmar Cheese Board of Directors Chairman Jim Ahlem. Trask was able to complete the mural in 10 days, using 22 gallons of paint and 273 different colors.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony for the mural on Friday, California Department of Food and Agriculture Undersecretary Jenny Lester Moffitt reflected on the image.
“I think that this mural represents not only what you have here in Hilmar, but really California and our vision for agriculture,” she said.