The fertile lands of North Carolina’s western Piedmont have seen a diversity of new development in recent years. The completed and planned construction of data centers by technology companies have attracted a good deal of national attention.
For local residents, however, one of the most satisfying new developments was the opening of Riverbend Creamery in August 2021.
The creamery is the area’s go-to spot for local dairy goods, including a line of fluid milk products and an array of ice cream varieties, available to take home or enjoy in the creamery’s ice cream parlor or on its surrounding grounds.
The creamery is owned and operated by Corey and Bridgette Lutz and their children James Pearson and Olivia Miller. The family also operates the neighboring dairy Piedmont Jerseys, a grazing dairy which milks about 220 Jerseys daily. About 40% of the dairy’s production is used by the creamery, which is preparing to ramp up to operating four days a week. The creamery is designed someday to handle all of the dairy’s output.
“After our kids were out of college and said they wanted to be part of the farm, we began exploring ways to have them be part of it,” Corey said. “Our daughter Olivia is the manager of the creamery and plant. She does the marketing and orders. Our son James runs the dairy, though he can also run the creamery.”
At present the creamery sells its milk products – including chocolate, low fat, whole and skim milk, half and half and heavy cream – out of its own storefront and through grocery stores. A big supporter has been Buffalo Shoals IGA. Deliveries to the retail stores from the creamery are made five days a week. The next step is to sell ice cream through retail partners as well.
The retail store at the creamery was designed for large capacity. “We toured many other plants before we built ours,” Corey said, “and asked ‘What would you do differently?’ One answer we heard over and over was ‘Make the retail space bigger.’”
Riverbend Creamery’s retail space is 2,400 square feet. It features vaulted ceilings, which add to the spaciousness. Artwork by Bonnie Mohr featuring profiles of an idealized Jersey cow also decorate the space.
The store is open six days a week, and Sundays tend to be the busiest day of the week. Midweek days find their busiest hours in the afternoon. During that time the creamery has high schoolers help operate the ice cream parlor. Customers come from local communities plus larger regional cities like Hickory and Charlotte.
Prior to opening the creamery, the Lutzes regularly hosted public tours on their dairy, so opening the creamery was, Corey said, “a natural next step.”
While designing and building the creamery was a massive undertaking, the dairy itself – which is close enough that milk is directly piped to the creamery – required little renovation. The only thing the Lutzes added was a second milk storage tank.
The tanks in the creamery were bought from dairies in North Carolina and Virginia. The processing equipment was purchased at auction and then plumbing was completed by M.G. Newell. The pasteurizer is capable of processing 500 gallons/hour.
“The first day we ran milk in the creamery we were down here 14 hours straight,” Corey recalled. “It was stressful. In a creamery a lot of the work has to do with timing. You can’t get distracted. A friend of mine has a plant and sent his processing guy here for a while. That was a godsend.”
The wash water from the creamery goes through a septic system and outlets into the dairy’s waste pond, so water usage at the joint dairy-creamery operation exists in a virtuous circle. The family soil tests the farmland throughout the year to ensure nothing is getting out of balance.
The creamery is named Riverbend because the farm is bounded on three sides by the South Fork River.
In this gracious part of North Carolina, the Lutz family is creating experiences which will be remembered by families for generations to come.
by Karl H. Kazaks