Open all year round but a definite tourist stop in the summer, the Oakdale Cheese & Specialties shop at 10040 State Highway 120, just north of Oakdale, offers a little oasis off the side of the road.
Along with the shop that features a variety of cheeses, bakery items, freshly made grilled cheese sandwiches (paired with tomato soup in cold weather) and gift items, the grounds are the perfect place to enjoy an impromptu picnic, take in koi ponds and just breathe in a little more deeply.
“We opened the doors of our first cheese plant in California in 1983. Walter and Lenneke Bulk, our founders and third generation cheesemakers, bought their first cheese vat, remodeled a small milk barn nestled in an almond orchard in Escalon, and began handcrafting Dutch Gouda and Quark,” explained Oakdale Cheese & Specialties spokesperson Jessica Bulk.
The move to Oakdale came in 1995 when the family business expanded to include a specialty food and gift shop to accompany their hand crafted cheeses.
“We specialize in Gouda cheese, still using our great-grandmother’s recipe,” shared Bulk, “and also make White Cheddar and Quark, a soft-cheese that we use to make German-style cheesecakes and our famous cheesecake brownies.”
The oldest son of Walter and Lenneke, John Dirk, is now the master cheesemaker, continuing the family tradition.
And that tradition is one of excellence.
“In the summer of 2014 our Aged Gouda was voted best Gouda in North America and third Best of Show at the American Cheese Society competition,” Bulk said.
With an unassuming but welcoming storefront, it’s hard to imagine all that is going on inside the shop. One visit will introduce you to the world of cheese.
Open to the public every day, regular hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except for a 5 p.m. closing time the first few months of the year after the Christmas holiday.
“Free self-guided tours are available every day and we host large school groups for a minimal fee,” Bulk explained. “We also host tour buses stopping on their way to Yosemite or shopping tours for those looking for specialty items and foods you can’t find just anywhere.”
Weekdays, there is always someone making cheese and the process can be viewed by visitors, who can also take a peek into the ‘aging room’ where hundreds of wheels of cheese are stored. They make between 2,100 and 3,200 pounds of cheese each week.
Bulk said the business welcomed some special guests to the Oakdale location not too long ago.
“Reading Rainbow recently came to film our cheesemaking process for their show and we look forward to showing their video to our customers in the store beginning this summer sometime,” she said. “Our customers enjoy our beautiful, shaded picnic grounds that include koi ponds and a pasture of farm animals who love to be fed and petted.”
A recent innovation was conversion to solar power – a different way of ‘going green’ for the cheese business.
“Our newest improvement has been a shade structure over our parking lot which not only benefits our customers, but holds a majority of the solar panels that will power our factory,” Bulk explained.
California Solar Innovators handled the project of installing solar panels on the cheese factory as well as adding the carport covered with additional panels and, altogether, they are expected to supply up to 87 percent of the facility’s energy needs.
The project also included resealing the entire parking lot and re-striping the parking spaces to maximize the space available under the new solar panel carport.
“We hope our customers enjoy the shaded parking available to them during the hot summer months,” Bulk noted. “We are looking forward to being powered by the sun!”
With a family history in the business, a tradition of excellence and a niche in the marketplace, the Bulk’s mantra could almost be ‘It’s Gouda to be in Oakdale.’
But that’s probably something they’ve heard before.
For the family, however, it is all about the cheese and providing the best product they possibly can, whether it’s at their own shop or through retailers around the region.
“Our cheeses can also be found at the O’Brien’s Markets and our local SaveMart as well as other retail stores and restaurants throughout the Central Valley and Bay Area,” Bulk said.
For more information, visitOakdaleCheese.com