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Marcoots keep dairy legacy alive with award-winning Jersey cheese

Karena Elliott for Progressive Dairyman Published on 20 December 2016
Marcoot family

“When our family business was on the line, the learning curve is very sharp,” recalls Amy Marcoot, president of Marcoot Jersey Farm Inc. “The primary reason I came back to the farm was to protect the family tradition.”

That family tradition dates to before 1842 when the Marcoot family left Switzerland, bringing a Jersey calf on the boat. Landing in New Orleans, they continued up the Mississippi River to finally settle in Bond County, Illinois. Since then, six generations had milked Jersey cows.

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But in 2009, Amy’s father, John Marcoot, started planning for his retirement. When he told his four daughters he was planning to sell within the next five years, the family was faced with the end of the legacy. Even though they had all left home, attended college, achieved bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and were living and working throughout the world, more than 150 years of dairying results in deep roots.

“We didn’t want our heritage to go away,” remembers Beth Marcoot Young, Amy’s sister who runs the farm today.

So sitting around the kitchen table, the family began to grapple with the future. “Let’s just dream,” suggested Linda Marcoot, John’s wife.

They started with what they had and what they knew. The Marcoots had maintained a registered Jersey herd, and their 70 cows were consistently producing milk with the highest butterfat and protein levels. Amy recalls, “My family decided that in order to stay small and continue milking cows, we needed to do something different.”

“We decided to go with cheese because we were already producing high-quality milk,” explains Beth. “But it wasn’t easy,” adds Amy.

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Marcoot farmstead cheese

Sisters Amy and Beth moved back to the farm in 2009. After months of research, site visits and consultations, they built a new creamery and an underground man-made aging cave on-site. They began making cheese in 2010 and readily admit that a few of their early batches were inedible.

“One of the greatest challenges that we have faced since taking over the farm would be starting the creamery,” Amy explains. “We had to learn how to manage another business, market and sell our cheese, and how to make great cheese.”

Family friend Audie Wall, who held a bachelor’s degree in engineering, stepped in to help navigate the process even though she had never made cheese and acknowledges that she really doesn’t even enjoy eating cheese. Eventually, all their efforts started to pay off and the team of three women began making some exceptional cheese.

The women credit John Marcoot with much of their success. “We have challenges on the farm, but my dad is still pretty active,” Amy shares. “His expertise has been helpful in learning how to manage the farm.”

Today, Amy runs the creamery, Beth runs the farm and Audie is the cheesemaker. They use every drop of milk produced by their Jersey herd to craft more than 17 different cheeses. Farmstead varieties include habanero Monterey Jack, a “Tipsy Cheddar” and a creamy havarti. Tomme, alpine, heritage and Gouda headline their cave-aged cheeses. And fresh selections feature hand pulled mozzarella, assorted flavors of cheese curds and quark, a soft cheese product. “Our customers like the seasonality of the product,” Amy says. (Visit the Marcoot Jersey Creamery website for more information.)

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Marcoot Jerseys

Those customers include Whole Foods, St. Louis Busch Stadium and more than 80 restaurants in St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville, in addition to a growing mail-order clientele.

"I have worked all over the world. I believe the cheeses at Marcoot are world-class and are to be considered some of the finest I have ever had the privilege to work with in my life,” observes Rex Hale, corporate executive chef of LHM Hotels in St. Louis, Missouri. “The quality of the product is truly in a class by itself.” Chef Hale is also the executive chef of Boundary, Basso and 360 Restaurants in St. Louis.

Just as the award-winning creamery has added value to the high-quality Jersey milk and enabled them to craft an artisan product, the sisters are continuing to identify other opportunities for expansion. For example, their farm store also offers whey-fed Berkshire pork products, in addition to beef, fresh milk and ice cream. And they utilized a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 to fund an equipment purchase.

“We are just so thankful for every individual that buys our cheese,” Amy says. “This is allowing our family to be sustainable.”

The Marcoots understand that the long-term success of their operation depends on customers who are willing to invest in a high-quality product. “I believe the greatest challenge we will continue to have is communicating well with the public,” she says. “Many people don’t exactly understand what being a dairy farmer means or what we do.”

That’s why the Marcoot Jersey Farm and Creamery is open to the public and offers tours. On one week alone in October of 2016, more than 600 people were on-site. Special farm events such as Moovie Night with fried cheese curds, cheese and beer tastings, and Graze in the Grass, a Farm to Fork Experience, welcome customers to Greenville, Illinois. “I feel like we need to respect that our customers want to learn about what we do,” Amy says.

In six years since opening the creamery, their success means the Marcoot family tradition will continue into the seventh generation. “I was not planning on coming back to the farm,” Amy admits. “But coming back was my choice, and today we genuinely love what we do. This is the legacy we get to leave.”  end mark

Karena Elliott is an international freelance writer. She makes her home in Amarillo, Texas.

PHOTO 1: When John and Linda Marcoot of Greenville, Illinois, made plans to sell the cows and retire, daughters Amy Marcoot and Beth Marcoot Young moved home to protect the family tradition.

PHOTO 2: The Marcoots are adding value to the high quality of their Jersey milk with award-winning cheese.

PHOTO 3: The Marcoot family’s dairy roots date to before 1842 when the family left Switzerland, bringing a Jersey calf on the boat. Since then, seven generations have milked Jersey cows in southern Illinois. Photos courtesy of the Marcoot family.

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