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Don Froylan Creamery: Two Decades of Artisanal Mexican Cheese

By Annelise Kelly

Salem's smorgasbord of authentic Mexican cuisine has expanded with the long-awaited opening of Don Froylan Creamery, where 11,000 gallons of local milk are transformed into about 11,000 pounds of traditional Mexican cheese each week.

Visitors can take home artisanal, prize-winning fresh and aged cheese, or enjoy delectable savory treats at the casual onsite café. Time your visit right, and you can watch cheesemakers pull their famously stretchy queso Oaxaca into tender elastic strands and bundle them into balls the size of grapefruit.

Here's a look at how Don Froylan got to this point-along with what the creamery offers.

Married partners Francisco and Lisa Ochoa have been helming the family-run business since 2008. The queseria began as an informal home-based cheese business launched by Francisco's father, Froylan Ochoa, around 2000.

The family had recently relocated to Grants Pass, Oregon, from Michoacán, Mexico, with a brief stop in California. Unable to find authentic Mexican cheese, they began producing ten-gallon batches of cheese in their home kitchen.

"My dad used to drive from Grants Pass to Salem, so we could knock on doors in apartments where people might want to buy queso fresco," recalls Francisco. He and his brother would join their father on these excursions to Latinx communities in the Willamette Valley, and after their father passed, his brother launched the creamery in Eugene in 2003. Francisco was there from the beginning, and took it over in 2008.

The business outgrew the Eugene facility and moved to Albany, and then to Salem, where the family opened the creamery's doors in March 2021. Nearly 20 years after launching, Don Froylan remains a family business; Francisco and Lisa's 17-year-old daughter works in the queseria (and even sagely suggested including keto tortillas on the menu), and Francisco's mother still comes in to help around the café kitchen.

The Ochoa family's dedication to the craft of handmade, artisanal Mexican cheese has enriched Latinx cuisine in homes and restaurants for two decades, and their success reflects an inspiring and delicious Willamette Valley expression of the American Dream.

For the freshest cheese experience in town, order some dairy-laden delights at the counter, and enjoy your meal indoors while watching the cheese-making or at outdoor seating. Custom quesadillas and nachos are a cut above most renditions since you choose your cheese from their outstanding fresh choices.

If you crave mild, pure cheesy goodness, choose Oaxaca or asadero cheese. For extra zing, try the botanero cilantro y jalapeño, the Oaxaca chipotle, or the asadero habanero. House-made meat selections include carne asada (grilled steak), pollo asado (grilled chicken), birria (lamb), chorizo (sausage), chile verde (stewed pork), tinga de pollo (chicken in sauce), or jamon (ham). Quesadillas are wrapped in your choice of a flour tortilla, corn tortilla, traditional organic nixtamal corn tortilla from Portland's Three Sisters Nixtamal, or keto tortilla for the carb conscious. Lavish toppings for nachos and quesadillas include onion, tomato, cilantro, pineapple, and crema Mexicana (a close cousin of sour cream). Add avocado slices or guacamole for an additional charge. The menu may vary.

Sides include fried cheese curds, chorizo fundido (melted cheese dip with sausage), and taquitos de requesón (tortillas wrapped around fresh cheese and fried). There's also a kids' menu that emphasizes simpler iterations of quesadillas and nachos, along with a classic grilled queso sandwich.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with an agua fresca. These traditional Mexican drinks come in assorted flavors including hibiscus, pineapple, and horchata (sweet rice scented with cinnamon). Also on the menu: ice cream from Lochmead, the Johnson City dairy that has supplied Don Froylan with milk since 2004.

Enormous windows let you watch the cheese-making activities in a spacious room equipped with stainless steel kettles, tanks, and tables. Raw milk is pasteurized on site, then curdled, strained and processed into over a half-dozen cheese varieties. The rich, whole milk contributes to the creamy texture and delicate milky flavor of Don Froylan cheese.

The award-winning queso fresco is a popular choice at Don Froylan Creamery in Salem. (Photo by Joey Hamilton)

If your quesadilla didn't satisfy your cheese craving, take some home for snacking or cooking. The American Cheese Society has recognized the excellence of several Don Froylan cheeses. Medalists include crumbly, creamy queso fresco; mildly spicy, herbaceous botanero cilantro y jalapeño; and queso Oaxaca, a Mexican fresh string cheese. Requesón is a fresh, fluffy cheese (similar to ricotta), cotija enchilado is dredged in brick-red spices, and cotija añejo (aged) is firm, salty, and nutty. Other products include pico de gallo (fresh salsa) and crema Mexicana.

The ambitious new facility is in the heart of a bustling district along Portland Road NE where a growing number of Latinx taquerias, food trucks, and markets have found a home. Other popular stops nearby include Don Bigote (a food truck known for its decadent churros, crepes, shakes and ice cream) and Lonchera la Guadalupana (which dishes some of the city's best-loved tacos). Stock up on Latin ingredients to go with your stash of cheese at Fruteria la Cabaña, where fruit, vegetables, and groceries are displayed under a tangle of vibrant piñatas.

Your adventure begins with the official Willamette Valley Travel Guide. Request your complimentary printed guide or download a digital guide today.

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