November 14, 2020 at 7:27 p.m.
From 1881, when the first campus creamery was built, through the late ‘60s, the creamery made butter, ice cream and cheese. Rapidly changing dairy processing technology led to the facility’s closing. Now the space houses the university’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
But it was not lost forever.
Dr. Stephanie Clark had a vision that took seven years to reach fruition, working toward developing a creamery that would educate students, earn its keep through sales and provide a positive dairy experience to the community.
Clark, a professor at ISU, came to Ames in 2009 after earning graduate degrees at Cornell University and teaching at Washington State University, both of which had on-campus dairy processing facilities.
“It was a big change to come to ISU and not have that,” Clark said. “It was a big void and a shame that our students didn’t have that experience.”
After she was appointed to her endowed position, Clark wrote a business plan for a creamery, an endeavor that went beyond her assigned duties. Starting without space or funding, she took steps toward the goal until a grand opening was scheduled for April 2020.
But the novel coronavirus pandemic delayed the opening until students returned to campus in late summer.
The ISU Creamery sells ice cream from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays in the Food Sciences building. Wednesdays are reserved for the Dairy Science Club’s weekly ice cream sales down the street. Students at the ISU Creamery scoop ice cream from hand-packed tubs in a space with a retro look to reflect the department’s history.
Eight-ounce containers of ice cream are also sold at the university’s Sparks Café in the Student Innovation Center. Several special events have also featured ISU ice cream.
But it is the behind-the-scenes story that matters more.
Clark said students can now get hands-on learning in milk handling, sanitization, milk chemistry and microbiology, pasteurization and formulation.
The creamery purchases pasteurized milk, cream, egg yolks and other ingredients to create a variety of base ice cream mixes which are pasteurized and aged. The creamery uses a small-scale soft-serve ice cream machine to freeze the mix, after which it is hand-packed into tubs before hardening in a minus 10-degree freezer. Marketing, too, is part of the process.
Student involvement helps prepare them for careers, Clark said.
“It’s incredibly important,” Clark said. “There are jobs in food science and the dairy foods industry; this hands-on experience prepares them for those jobs.”
Ten students work in the creamery, hired and supervised by a program coordinator Clark hired a year ago. Sarah Canova is an ISU food science graduate and a former student of Clark’s. She worked in research and development in the meat sector before coming back to campus to work in the creamery.
The Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center, the Iowa State Dairy Association and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture are some of the stakeholders who have provided funds to meet other costs.
“It’s a dream come true,” Canova said. “And business has been really good. … Last week we made about 2,000 pounds of ice cream.”
Since opening, the ISU Creamery has sold more than 4,700 scoops of ice cream, she said.
Canova is responsible for ordering supplies, managing students and completing many of the marketing and business operations tasks.
“For me, it was a sprint,” Canova said. “For Dr. Clark, it was a marathon.”
Canova’s goal is for the creamery to be financially self-sufficient.
The history behind the venture is not lost on her nor on Clark. Both have enjoyed alumni returning to campus and visiting the facility. Among them was a man in his 90s from Slater who worked in the creamery in the ‘40s.
“He has an impeccable memory; he even remembered the names of the people who were there,” Canova said. “He still has his shirt from his stint making ice cream.”
With the creamery now operating, it is the future Clark is looking to build. There are plans to make cheese and to feature other Iowa dairy processors on a rolling basis. The creamery will also be available to help Iowans who want to do value-added dairy processing.
While the ISU Creamery is a micro-creamery, Clark dreams of a stand-alone facility (at a price tag as high as $9 million), where the ISU Dairy Farm’s milk could be processed.
Meanwhile, the creamery’s rebirth will serve as a recruiting tool to a food science program that more closely resembles its rich history.
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