Classical swine fever (CSF) is a highly contagious disease caused by the classical swine fever virus (CSFV). The live attenuated C-strain vaccine is highly efficacious, initiating protection within several days of delivery. The vaccine strain is detected in the tonsil early after inoculation, yet little is known of the role that tonsillar immune cells might play in initiating protection. Comparing the C-strain vaccine with the pathogenic CSFV Alfort-187 strain, changes in the myeloid cell compartment of the tonsil were observed. CSFV infection led to the emergence of an additional CD163+CD14+ cell population, which showed the highest levels of Alfort-187 and C-strain infection. There was also an increase in both the frequency and activation status (as shown by increased MHC-II expression) of the tonsillar conventional dendritic cells 1 (cDC1) in pigs inoculated with the C-strain. Notably, the activation of cDC1 cells coincided in time with the induction of a local CSFV-specific IFN-γ+ CD8 T cell response in C-strain vaccinated pigs, but not in pigs that received Alfort-187. Moreover, the frequency of CSFV-specific IFN-γ+ CD8 T cells was inversely correlated to the viral load in the tonsils of individual animals. Accordingly, we hypothesise that the activation of cDC1 is key in initiating local CSFV-specific CD8 T cell responses which curtail early virus replication and dissemination.