Cheese Plate


Sometimes it can be the one thing or experience that makes all the difference. Such can be said in the case of Jesse Lee Houghton, who found his calling in cheese. In 1890, at 20 years old with an eighth-grade education, he found work as a helper in a Woodland, WA cheese factory. Learning the craft from a master cheesemaker there, the process of making cheese grew to become a passion for Jesse. Determined to expand his craft with this newly found purpose, he opened his own cheese factory in Tillamook. He was able to earn 2 ½ cents a pound for all the cheese he could produce. However 4 years later in 1908, prices declined to 2 cents a pound. Considering he and his wife Laura had 5 children to support, he sold the factory. That same year, Jesse moved his family up the Siuslaw River, to the North Fork area. He and Laura built a house with a barn, and began raising a dairy herd. He established a small cheese factory after purchasing a vat for $25, capable of holding 950 pounds of milk. Using a steam boiler to heat the vat, he turned the milk into curds, and the curds into cheese. The remaining whey was fed to their hogs.

Unfortunately, in 1910 a fire destroyed their home. Devasted but not defeated, Jesse salvaged the bricks to construct yet another cheese factory. With a larger vision, he purchased a vat capable of holding 5,000 pounds of milk. This, along with his dairy herd, allowed him to increase his cheese production to 150 pounds every 3 days during the spring and summer months. Additionally, by making cheese in 5-to-25-pound sizes, Jesse found he could trade his cheese for other goods or services. In 1915 and throughout the early 1920’s, he was known to make 300 pounds of cheese every 2 days.

This story is as much about a North Fork cheese factory, as it is about looking back to acknowledge the legacy of pioneers such as Jesse Houghton who came to the Siuslaw area with the determination to pursue his craft. In so doing, he contributed to a bit of history with both achievement and inspiration. Perhaps you’ll find yourself pausing to consider the passion and determination of this early dairy farmer and cheesemaker as you enjoy that next bite of cheese.

Story by: Deb Lobey, June, 2024


1920 United States Federal Census; Census Place: Minerva, Lane, Oregon; Roll: T625_1496; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 249
Siuslaw Pioneer, 1959, pgs. 26-27; 1982 , pg 17
Tohamina on Freepik – Cheese Platter Image