Henry County, Ky., farm diversifies to stay ahead of the game
Rowlett’s Milkhouse Creamery opens
CAMPBELLSBURG, Ky. (March 2020) – In an effort to diversify their dairy production, brother and sister team Terry and Sharon Rowlett embarked upon a new venture that has steadily grown into a viable business with a bright future. Converting milk into cheese, butter and ice cream has been a labor of love well worth the effort.
Rowlett’s Milkhouse Creamery officially opened on Aug. 31, 2019, at 63 Commerce Dr., with a soft opening Labor Day weekend. “The community was wonderful to us,” said Sharon Rowlett, with visitors coming from Henry, Shelby, Trimble, Oldham and Franklin counties to try the family’s ice cream.
“We offer three main things,” she said. “Cheese (colby, cheddar and pepper jack), butter (salted and unsalted) and ice cream.” Fudge was a special addition for this past Christmas season as was different flavors of ice cream to complement the holidays.
Ice cream is sold by the scoop or cup or cone and in half-gallon containers, the latter being “one of our biggest sellers,” she said.
Sharon, 67, is a retired principal from Bedford Elementary School, and Terry, 70, is a farmer. They both attended Eastern Kentucky University, with Terry majoring in agriculture with a minor in business.
Photo by Don Ward
Sharon Rowlett displays some of the ice cream she sells at her family’s new Milkhouse Creamery, located in the Henry County Commerce Park on Hwy. 421.
Originally, the family owned a farm in Trimble County near the LG&E plant. “Our father bought a farm in Henry County in 1974,” said Sharon.
“I’ve always farmed,” said Terry. “I got out of college, then the military and came back home.” He sits on the area council of the Dairy Farmers of America as a representative from his district in Kentucky and was elected by his peers in the organization to sit on the corporate board of DFA as well.
There came a point in their lives when “the milk check was just not covering costs,” Sharon said. In 2017 after discussing it with her brother and sister-in-law, Sandra, they came up with the idea of making cheese based on the fact that they had a friend in eastern Kentucky who successfully made cheese. Sharon suggested doing ice cream, and her sister-in-law thought they could add butter to the list, and their business was born.
They purchased two lots from Henry County Fiscal Court, covering 2.23 acres in the Henry County Commerce Park in Campbellsburg. Next, they built the necessary buildings, and Terry takes care of production on location while Sharon handles the retail side of the business.
“Everything in the park has to have an agricultural theme to it,” said Sharon. The Rowletts did not set up their business on their own farm because the location in the Commerce Park already had natural gas and sewage hookup.
“We didn’t know what to expect when we opened,” she said. They actually ran out of ice cream during their Labor Day opening. Having enough of what they thought would last two weeks instead sold out within two days.
Their 2,160-square-foot facility contains a cheese vat, butter churn, ice cream freezer, milk receiving area, processing area and storefront. Terry had to become a certified milk truck hauler, and there were many rules and regulations to follow and inspections with the Health Department and Milk Safety Branch (Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services) they had to go through before opening.
“When dairy and milk prices plummeted and feed prices escalated, we knew we had to do something to add value to our milk,” said Terry. “We thought it would be a good idea to open a creamery.”
The Rowletts use milk from their own dairy cows to make cheese. They currently milk around 60 cows, where they once milked 120. They also raise heifers and have a beef cattle herd.
“We have a contract with Dairy Farmers of America to sell all of our milk to them,” said Sharon. What milk is used at the creamery for cheese making, they buy back from DFA. The extra milk or cream needed is sourced from another Kentucky farm, Terry said.
Sharon credits her brother with making and developing new ideas for ice cream flavors. Maggie’s Garden & More in Milton just purchased some of their ice cream to sell, and they may work with the Farmers Market in the future to also sell their products.
They are close to getting their onsite lab certified. Until that point, Sharon has to take samples to Frankfort for inspection, which slows down production.
Before making cheese, both visited other facilities. Terry visited a cheese plant in eastern Kentucky, and Sharon checked out plants though Western Kentucky University. Rickey Gulley, a cheesemaker with Bluegrass Dairy & Food, drove three hours to walk through the process with Terry, said Sharon. They found a lot of people like Gulley who “are very willing to share their knowledge.”
At the present time, only the Rowletts run the business. They may hire a few employees in the spring or summer. “It’s been a lot of hard work,” said Sharon, who is there most days from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The business is closed on Mondays and open until 7 p.m. every other day.
Because they have land to expand, future plans call for building a sheltered seating area and bottling milk.
“We want to see how things go and get a full year in first with the products we currently have,” said Terry.
• For more information. contact Rowlett’s Milkhouse Creamery at (502) 532-7533 or visit their Facebook page.
Back to March 2020 Articles.