Apronomics: Amy Marcoot
Amy Marcoot’s original career plan did not include pastoral scenes full of cows, barns and fields; she intended to work as a counselor. But when her parents, John and Linda, began talking about selling their dairy farm in Greenville, Illinois, she and her sister Beth realized that much more than a plot of land was at stake. There was priceless family heritage to be preserved.
“Our parents had four daughters, and at first they didn’t think we would want to take over the farm, which was founded in the 1840s by our Swiss immigrant ancestors,” Marcoot says. “But there’s something about the farming lifestyle that really speaks to you. Taking care of the animals and the land, you really begin to appreciate everything about it. We decided to keep it in the family.” Several years ago, she and Beth teamed up with their friend Audie Wall and stepped into their parents’ work boots as seventh-generation owners. Since then, the farm has become a destination for customers who want fresh, natural products like cheese, meat and honey. Its goods are sold to grocers and restaurants around the metro as well. John and Linda have stayed involved by managing cattle and overseeing food safety operations.
The business includes a country store and website selling a variety of products, and about 30,000 people visit the farm for special events and tours each year. The family has installed glass-paneled viewing areas so guests can see cheese being made and cows being milked, and people can enjoy visiting with calves. The idea is to spark the community’s interest in the agricultural process so they can carry it forward, Marcoot says.
The farm is home to a herd of grass-fed Jersey cows, which she says are perfect for cheesemaking. Their milk is especially creamy, just right for producing rich, satisfying cheeses like Gouda and havarti. The animals also are wonderful to work with, she notes. “They are very pleasant and gentle,” Marcoot says. “We work hard to take care of them and honor what they do for us.” That includes grazing them on a variety of grasses for healthy, natural nutrition and never treating them with hormones.
Producing cheese requires a lot of love, attention and time, but Marcoot says seeing (and tasting) the results is beyond rewarding. “We did some training with a renowned Vermont cheesemaker, but it also takes constant daily practice,” she notes. “It’s a lot like learning your way around a regular kitchen. There are temperatures you have to hit at certain times, and you have to be careful not to overcook or undercook things. Once you’ve done it for a while, you can become really good at it.” Marcoot adds that making cheese on the property is about as ‘farm to table’ as you can get. “The cheese curds you’re eating here today came from a cow that was milked this morning,” she notes. “It’s very satisfying to know that we can take it from the animal to the customer in the length of a day. It couldn’t be any fresher.”
Marcoot says she truly enjoys using the farm’s products in her own kitchen. “I love stronger, more flavorful cheeses,” she notes. “We have a cheddar-parmesan blend, aged 18 months, that is great for appetizers. I like to put it on a cheese board, drizzle honey over it and serve with crackers. The salty-sweet flavor is perfect.” The farm’s mozzarella tops off her favorite pizzas and caprese salads, and she flavors bread and potatoes with its Alpine and Heritage cheeses. “I grate them over crusty loaves and broil until it’s crispy,” she says. “Our cheddar also makes delicious grilled cheese sandwiches.”
The creamery has expanded its business model with a new packaged dairy dessert, Extreme Ice, which is expected to go nationwide soon. “It’s made with whey from our milking operations,” Marcoot explains. “It’s very fruity and kind of creamy like sorbet, and it contains highly digestible protein that works well for breakfast smoothies, with no added sugar. It’s a great snack for athletes who need to energize quickly as well.”
Marcoot says the most rewarding thing about churning out farm-fresh foods is the customer’s response to the company’s products. “When people tell us how much they enjoy what we create, it makes our long days worthwhile,” she says.
Pictured at top: Amy and Beth Marcoot, Audie Wall
Photo: Bill Barrett