The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Craving for butter leads to Island creamery


October 27, 2016

Diana Zimmerman

Little Island Creamery owners Dick McDonald and Kyleen Austin are surrounded by friends at the ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce.

Last Wednesday, the Little Island Creamery celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon cutting, tours, hors d'oeuvres and more.

The creamery is the brainchild of Puget Island residents, business partners and friends, Dick McDonald and Kyleen Austin.

McDonald hails from the northwest. He went to college and graduate school in Washington before heading east to work first in Washington D.C. as an economist for the government and then to Chicago, where he was an economist for a futures exchange.

"The futures exchange," he added.

Meanwhile his sister, Kathleen, who had settled in Portland, was reminiscing to friends about a stay in Denmark.

"You should check out Puget Island," someone told her. She did, later bringing McDonald.

He liked it. He really liked the fish and chips at the old Ranch House. To be precise, he liked Janet's (Bryan) fish and chips. It didn't have to be the Ranch House. Wherever she was cooking, that's where he went.

In 1994 he bought property on the island. So did his sister.

"I was living in Illinois," McDonald said. "I was coming just for the summers or for short periods of time in the year, but then I realized that I was retired and I didn't have to do that any more."

"It took me a few years to figure that out," he said with a laugh.

He'd found friends here. A tribe, his sister called it.

"I'd worked downtown in Chicago," McDonald said. "I lived in Evanston. It was a short walk to the metro. I'd read a section of the New York Times on the train and then walk a few minutes to work. It was pretty good. But I was single, commuting to work, working long hours, and I just didn't meet many people. Big cities are hard on that."

"I've made more friends here in the first two years I lived here than in the 20 years I lived in Illinois," McDonald added. "I've got wonderful friends around here."

"Including me," Austin teased.

He met Austin while she was working for Rob and Diane Stockhouse on the island.

He'd had raw milk and butter on his mind at the time. Raw milk because he'd heard other people talking about it and butter because he was craving some fresh, local, European style butter.

Retirement must give you ideas, because suddenly McDonald wanted a farm.

Well, a dairy really.

He bought the farm and barn near his home.

Austin, a local musician and kayak guide, is well versed in dairies and cheese making. She'd had a dairy in California and helped start the Skamokawa Farmstead Creamery here a few years ago.

McDonald approach her about his vision at one of the dinners at the Stockhouse farm.

There was just one hitch. He wanted cows.

"I don't like cows," Austin told him.

Ultimately, McDonald was flexible on the matter, and Austin agreed to move forward with goats. And just one cow. It turns out Austin was flexible on that matter too, but more on that later.

First they bought raw milk and started experimenting.

McDonald learned how to separate milk and make cream. Then butter.

"It tasted really good," he said. "Way better than anything we could find around here."

While McDonald was learning the basics, Austin was working on a more advanced art.

"I was excited to blend cow and goat milk," she said. "It was something I hadn't done before. Not many people do. It has worked out really well. The cheeses are good. I was able to develop recipes that bring out the good characteristics of the blend. I'm looking forward to this winter when I can go back into the lab, as it were, and see what else I can create."

They stopped buying milk and bought some livestock. Currently they, and five full time employees, are milking five Jersey cows and four of their goats. Soon there will be chickens wandering around too.

"Kyleen designed the creamery so the capacity of the tanks can handle 10 cows or 10 goats," McDonald said. "That is fine with us. We're happy with the products were making."

They are now selling their European style butter at the Cathlamet Market, the Skamokawa Store, Country Village in Longview and the Co-op in Astoria.

Their cheeses have been available at the Puget Island Farmer's Market, but they hope to be able to sell it in stores as well. According to McDonald, two are hard cheeses and the third is similar to a camembert.

At the farm, they sell raw milk, both goat and cow. They also sell cream.

"We have about 12-15 regular weekly milk customers," Austin said. "Customers who are interested can call the day before to request it."

According to Austin, the dairy will be open throughout the winter. They won't be milking any of the goats, but there will be cow milk, butter, cream and some cheeses available.

Once they've got the creamery running smoothly, they will focus a little more on the venue above the working dairy. Upstairs is a large space that has already been used for three large events this summer and Austin hopes to do more.

Diana Zimmerman

Youngsters and moms make friends with a donkey.

"We've got one wedding scheduled for next year so far," she said. "There was a graduation party here earlier this year. They had a DJ and lots of people and it went on into the evening. Staff were bringing in the goats and cows and people at the party were out on the deck watching with smiles on their faces."

There are similar venues in the US, but this barn is the only one with a working dairy downstairs, according to Austin.

"It's important to me that this is a central place where people can go and learn and have an experience," Austin said. "I hope we can help to feed people locally and bring people together and have a stronger sense of community."

The Little Island Creamery is located at 448 E. Little Island Road. They are open most days from 7-4. For more information, check out their page on Facebook.


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