Amy Marcoot holds a wheel of cheese produced at her family’s creamery. The multi-generation dairy farm has found a niche in the specialty cheese market.
Amy Marcoot holds a wheel of cheese produced at her family’s creamery. The multi-generation dairy farm has found a niche in the specialty cheese market.
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 paying off.

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 year.

“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 here.”

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.