SKOWHEGAN — Two local businesses have been named finalists in a San Francisco-based contest.

Maine Grains and Crooked Face Creamery, both located at 42 Court St., each had two of their products showcased as finalists in the 2021 Good Food Awards. The ceremony will be held virtually Jan. 22, 2021.

Amy Rowbottom of Crooked Face Creamery has had her shop at the Grist Mill for about a year and a half, but has been making cheese for a decade. Her offerings include whole milk ricotta, smoked ricottas, herbed ricottas, and smoked gouda-style cheeses. This was her first time applying for the contest and her Pressed Herb Ricotta and Whole Milk Ricotta received recognition.

Amber Lambke of Maine Grains has experienced the competition before, both as a judge and a contestant. Last year, Maine Grains was named a winner for their Organic Pearled Farro and Organic Corn Polenta. This year, Pearled Black Barley and Marfax Crop Rotation Dry Beans received recognition.

The awards are handled by The Good Food Foundation, which named 338 food and drink crafters from 45 states and Guam as finalists from nearly 2,000 entries in 16 categories. Included are seven other Maine businesses.

According to the news release from the Good Food Awards, average weekly grocery spending is up 17% year over year and many are seeking to support local food systems. For the first time, the public took part in a portion of the judging.

Rowbottom works solo at her creamery and applied to the competition for the first time this fall.

“It’s just me. I’m a one woman show,” she said.

Due to the pandemic, both she and Maine Grains have seen an increase in sales.

“This year has been wild,” Rowbottom said. “Our local farmers market has been extraordinary. We’ve seen a lot of support from the local community, a lot of online orders and curbside pickups that really kept us going when the wholesale markets dropped off.”

After listening to feedback from her customers, Rowbottom started carrying other products, including other Maine cheeses to compliment her own on charcuterie boards. Additionally, she has branched out and began making her own raclette-style cheese.

“People come in requesting different things, and that has given me ideas for other Maine cheeses that I can bring in to round out my offerings here,” Rowbottom said. “That’s been really fun. I love working with other Maine cheesemakers, and I feel like we all need the support right now. I’m really enjoying that aspect of it.”

Amber Lambke, Maine Grains president, stands outside the Grist Mill on Friday in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Lambke said that a few years ago, she was asked to judge the competition under the cheese category. Just last year, the contest opened up a Pantry Staples category, and she said that her business was eager to submit their grains.

“We’re excited, and we’re excited for Amy and others in Maine,” Lambke said. “We’re in great company. It’s a pretty rigorous vetting process for winners to make sure that not only do these products taste incredible but are grown sustainably and responsibly.”

This year, she added, it’s a little bittersweet that the awards cannot be held in-person, but she is optimistic that doing it virtually will also be successful. Maine Grains has received national praise this year for their business model. Lambke recently announced an expansion project, where the goal is to provide housing, a space for the farmers market in the winter and to invite entrepreneurs to try out their businesses in a building adjacent to the Grist Mill.

“All of this is very bittersweet,” Lambke said. “Last year for these awards we got to travel to San Francisco, but it’ll all be virtual this year. They had a beautifully orchestrated at-home taste testing for judges this year. Normally, they have a big, beautiful gathering where the winners can meet each other and then sell our products at a market.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.