Call it back to the future – a new micro-creamery on campus at Iowa State University (ISU) is the first step to developing a large-scale creamery that will blend the best of ISU’s dairy science heritage with modern food science.

“Making food products from milk is such a joy,” said Stephanie Clark, an ISU associate professor for food science and human nutrition, who began developing plans for the micro-creamery seven years ago.  “My colleagues and I are thrilled with the opportunities this can create for food science students, dairy science students, entrepreneurs, farmers and agri-tourism.”

The micro-creamery began operating in fall 2018 in the Center for Crops Utilization Research pilot plant, located within ISU’s Food Sciences Building.

The micro-creamery includes a clarifier/separator, a pasteurizer cheese vat, an ice cream freezer and sanitation equipment. The micro-creamery is designed to give students practical experience with dairy food processing. This training is needed now more than ever at ISU, especially as low milk prices takes a toll on dairy farmers, Clark said.

“It’s not enough just to learn from books. Hands-on training is essential, not only for students, but to entrepreneurs and farmers in Iowa who want to explore value-added opportunities for dairy products,” she said.

A full-scale creamery could produce signature ISU-branded ice cream and cheese.

The university used to operate a creamery starting in the 1920s. It was phased out in the 1970s, however, due, in part, to claims of unfair competition related to tax issues.

The lack of a creamery on campus is a big missed opportunity for ISU dairy science and food science students, said Clark, who grew up on a small Massachusetts farm where she learned to process food products from her family’s dairy goats. “There was a creamery on campus at Cornell University when I was a student there. When I worked at Washington State University, they had a creamery, too.” 

ISU’s new micro-creamery has been supported by funding from Clark’s Virginia M. Gladney Professorship, the Midwest Dairy Association and other sources.

Clark and student employees have been busy making ice cream, including an ISU signature ice cream created by a team of food science majors.

This peanut butter/butterscotch ice cream with chocolate-covered rice crisps honors both Iowa State alumni George Washington Carver, whose research impacted the peanut industry, and Mildred Day, a 1928 home economics graduate who created the Rice Krispies Treat while working for Kellogg’s.

“We’ve served more than 250 people, and the vast majority love this ice cream,” Clark said.

The micro-creamery is paving the way for a proposed ISU Dairy Products Innovation Center (DPIC), a large-scale creamery that could be built near the ISU Dairy Farm. Not only would this full-scale creamery produce ice cream and a signature ISU cheese from milk supplied by ISU’s 400-cow dairy herd, but the facility will help students gain work experience in the dairy processing industry.

Iowa dairy farmers can also come to the center to learn how to turn their milk into dairy products, rather than selling their extra milk to other states, Clark said.

“I also envision the DPIC as an agri-tourism destination where people can see on-farm dairy processing,” Clark added. 

She hopes the success of the micro-creamery will jumpstart funding for the DPIC, which is estimated to cost $5 million-$10 million. Contributions will be sought from private industry and alumni, in cooperation with the ISU Foundation.

“We’re an ag school and I know we can teach dairy processing skills,” Clark said. “We just need a better facility to do it.”