A delicious surprise

English major runs creamery, wins national cheese award 

39 Crooked Face Creamery012Wheaton’s English majors are frequently asked what exactly they plan to do with their degrees once they graduate. Back when Amy Rowbottom Clark ’06 was a student, though, she’d never have guessed what her answer would eventually be: Make cheese.

“Looking back I realize how natural this whole transition was,” Amy said, “but being a full-time farmer and cheese maker was not in my plan back in college.”

Amy and her husband, Josh, own and operate Crooked Face Creamery, a 200-acre dairy farm in the small town of Skowhegan in central Maine. The high-school sweethearts are already winning recognition just four years after they bought their herd of cows, and now operate their business at a farm Josh’s grandparents had owned for more than a century.

Their fresh whole-milk ricotta received a third-place ribbon at the 2013 American Cheese Society Conference, the largest competition in the history of the conference, with a record 1,794 contestants.

“We only did it to get feedback from the expert panel of judges, and were blown away to actually win an award,” Amy said.

39 Crooked Face Creamery003Amy left behind the family farm in Maine where she grew up when she came to Wheaton. After college, she and Josh moved together to Burlington, Vt., where she took a job as a marketing coordinator with Ashgate Publishing and he worked with at-risk young people. Yet their shared love of agriculture was calling them back.

“We missed the lifestyle and knew it was how we wanted to raise our family,” she said.

Amy and Josh moved home and got married in 2009—but instead of going on a honeymoon, they bought a herd of Jersey cows. A friend soon suggested that Amy try making her own cheese, and she discovered a passion. She joined a thriving industry in Maine, which is home to the nation’s fastest-growing artisanal cheese sector, and now makes about 500 pounds of cheese a month.

Amy makes three types of cheese at Crooked Face: the award-winning ricotta, a gouda, and a double Gloucester. Each batch requires about 40 gallons of milk, which she carries herself from the milk room to the cheese room in five-gallon buckets—”very old school”—and then turns into cheese through an intensive process of heating, cutting and salting. She sells the final product wholesale and at farmer’s markets for $7.50 to $18 a pound.

Farming isn’t for the faint-hearted. Josh wakes up at 3:30 every morning to milk the cows, and Amy is up by 5:30. “That’s the reality of life on a farm,” she said. “We have no days off, no sick days or holidays. The cows must be milked twice a day every day.”

One upside to making cheese: As a value-added product, it’s less subject to price swings than the milk that Josh sells wholesale to Agri-Mark, a dairy cooperative. “You have to be your own everything on a small farm,” Amy said. “Not only do you need to be an expert in making your product and taking care of your animals, but also on how to sell what you make, find new markets, create your own marketing material, websites, brochures, and also keep up with bookkeeping.”

It all sounds far removed from studying Emily Dickinson in a classroom in Norton. But Amy said her English degree helped prepare her for the challenges she now faces in her cheese room.

“Going to Wheaton taught me how to learn and gave me confidence in my own ideas,” she said. “It’s that confidence and creativity that gave me the ambition to learn the art of making cheese, and has helped me wear so many hats with our business.”