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From Dream to Dairy: The Story of Salem’s Premier Mexican Cheese Maker

Written by Joe Franco Monroy on Mar. 14th, 2024
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Don Froylan Creamery in Salem has been an Ochoa family affair since it opened in 2003. The creamery is named for owner Francisco Ochoa’s late father, Froylan Ochoa, who dreamed of opening a commercial Mexican cheese creamery. Francisco and his family helped make his father’s dreams a reality by opening the creamery and making authentic, handmade Mexican cheeses.

Don Froylan Creamery has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the kitchen of founders Froylan and Zoila Ochoa.

The couple moved their family from Mexico to Albany, Oregon, in the late 1990s. At the time, they couldn’t find any authentic Mexican cheese in Oregon stores, so they decided to make their own. Froylan sold the cheese door-to-door, and word spread among their friends and customers about their products.

After Froylan Ochoa passed away suddenly in 2000 before fulfilling his dream, son Francisco took over the business, and together the family opened the doors of Don Froylan Creamery, named in their father’s honor. They have been in Salem since 2020.

Francisco and his wife Lisa now run the creamery, along with several of his siblings who are integral to the business. They produce several types of authentic Mexican cheese, including Queso Fresco, Queso Panela, hand-stretched Queso Oaxaca, and Queso Botanero, using a small-batch process, no preservatives, and all-natural ingredients. They are the only makers of Mexican cheese in Oregon.

Grocery stores in Oregon, Washington, and California carry their products, and Oregonians can find Don Froylan cheeses in stores including Fred Meyer, Whole Foods, Market of Choice, and New Seasons. Restaurants also buy their products through restaurant food distributors.

When asked what his daily routine is like, Francisco said, “I wear a lot of hats around here.” During the pandemic, he was the main salesperson, cheesemaker, researcher and developer of new products, and maintenance man all at the same time.

He says while running a family business can be challenging, he knows that he can count on his family to take care of customers “just like he would” when he’s away on business. He is quick to credit his siblings, who fill multiple roles within the company.

With its success, the creamery has been able to hire more employees and now employs 55 people, hiring 15 within the past three months. They make 48,000 pounds of cheese each week and are planning to expand their 8,000-square-foot facility.

Visitors can watch cheese being made at the creamery through a large window. Lisa said she has heard people, especially school field trip groups, say things like, “Whoa, so that is how string cheese is made!”

Not only are visitors taking notice, but the creamery’s products have also been recognized by the American Cheese Society, which named Don Froylan’s Queso Oaxaca the best in the country in 2009 and in several other years, an award Francisco says he didn’t realize at the time “would be so important” for their business. The creamery’s string cheese was also named the best in 2019 and 2023 by the American Cheese Society.

Francisco said that he is glad they located in Salem and is very “thankful for all of the community’s support” for the business and their employees.

Francisco and Lisa also credit the cheesemaking community in Oregon for supporting them and pitching in knowledge and resources when needed. Organizations like the Oregon Cheese Guild collaborate to increase the awareness of Oregon’s artisanal cheeses and provide for cooperation and shared resources among Oregon cheesemakers.

Lisa Ochoa was recently elected to serve as the Oregon Cheese Guild’s 2024 president. They sponsor several annual events, including the Oregon Cheese Festival in March at the Rogue Creamery in Central Point and The Wedge, a Portland event held in September. Don Froylan Creamery’s cheeses will be among those featured at these events, along with wineries and breweries from around the state.

The Ochoas are especially appreciative of the Oregon State University Food Sciences Program, which has been an important resource for the creamery as they develop, manufacture, and market their products.

Lisa says her husband is brimming with ideas and is working on developing new products all the time. She describes him as a “humble cheesemaker” who had a “vision for the creamery” and made it happen with a “positive mindset.”

You can visit the creamery and sample their award-winning cheeses being made at their location at 3310 NE Portland Road in Salem.

Joe Franco Monroy

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