GREENVILLE, Ill. — Getting bigger is the only way to go for
many farms today. The Marcoot family went in the other direction, and it is
The Bond County dairy has flourished in a niche market after
cutting its herd by more than half and switching the milk-only operation to a
cheese production factory, now called the Marcoot Jersey Creamery.
The Marcoots — led by John and Linda, along with daughters
Amy and Beth, and their son-in-law, Tony — produce cheese sold to a ready market
in nearby St. Louis and the surrounding community.
The dairy has been in the family since the 1800s. The
operation was reduced from 150 cattle on concrete several few years ago to a
smaller, grass-fed herd.
“We did that for several reasons. One was that I was here by
myself,” John Marcoot said. “Also, that reduced a lot of the overhead.”
The creamery was born in 2010, when the first wheel of
mozzarella was produced. The Marcoots are well aware of the limited scope of
their operation. Amy Marcoot oversees a marketing strategy that embraces the
growing demand for local foods.
“We have to be innovative,” she said. “Our cheese is more
expensive than Kraft cheese. We’re not competing with Velveeta. It’s a much
different game — because the overhead is extremely high — to run the creamery on
the farm, to feed the cows after a drought, that sort of thing.”
While the Marcoots were doing well with their fresh
mozzarella, they decided earlier this year to test the craft cheese market. That
led to the creation of the beer-based cheese they named Tipsy Cheddar.
The joint venture between the dairy and Saint Louis Brewery
Inc., the maker of Schlafly beer, has been fortuitous. The first 500-pound batch
of Tipsy Cheddar, created in May, sold out in a week. Beer cheese is apparently
a hit in the St. Louis metro area.
“We knew we needed to do something unique,” Amy Marcoot
said. “The big creameries in Wisconsin didn’t find it to be profitable. But it
worked out for us. We’re hoping it could be a mainstay. We sell a lot of fresh
mozzarella, but we need another cheese or two.”
Cheesemaker Laura Wall must deal with the challenges posed
by a grass-fed dairy herd. Among other concerns, she must be mindful of such
variables as changing seasons. It’s often a juggling act.
“We have higher fat contents in the beginning of the
summer,” Wall said. “In wintertime it’s mostly hay and a little bit of grain. It
all depends on the time of the year. The milk is really white, thinner and more
watery. As an artisan operation, we have to change the recipes throughout the
“The fact that we control what we’re feeding them makes the
cheese a lot more consistent throughout the year. We can feed it more silage, or
more distillers grains, to produce more gases.”
Cheese is made on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The
nuances of producing quality cheese are not lost on Wall.
“A certain cheese tastes better after two months, and a
certain cheese tastes better after a year,” she said. “Our milk changes
throughout the year.”
From a production standpoint, the transition from a
conventional dairy to a creamery has drawbacks as well as benefits. It takes 100
pounds of Jersey to produce 12 to 13 pounds of cheese.
“You give up production. Our cows won’t give as much milk as
they used to,” John Marcoot said. “But you gain longevity of your cows because
you’re not pushing them quite as hard. We have 9- and 10-year-old cows
The family members make an effort to share their operation.
Beth Marcoot is active in the public relations side of the operation.
“On the farm we do several things,” she said. “We make
cheese, obviously. But one of most important things is education. We offer
tours, from preschoolers all the way up to older people. There is a wide range
of population we get to serve.”
The Marcoots also keep a retail presence on the farm, where
visitors may purchase cheese, ice cream and gift items from the store attached
to the creamery.