American Cheese Month, Illinois style!
In this, the 2nd week of American Cheese Month, we feature Marcoot Jersey Creamery from our great state of Illinois, relative newcomers to the artisan cheese community but with some serious roots in dairying. A piece of correspondence on Marcoot Jersey Creamery letterhead remains in the family, dated in the late 1800s- the first generation of dairy farmers on American soil. Martin Markut came over from Switzerland in 1872 and, according to family legend, brought a Jersey calf with him.
(Let’s just take this excuse to look at a cute baby cow- it all starts with them, anyhow!) Little did he know when he settled on a homested in the county of Bond-Madison that he was setting the stage for seven generations of Marcoots. Current generation sisters Amy, Beth and Brooke are running the cheesemaking operation on the same land, with the help of their head cheesemaker, longtime family friend Audie Wall. The sisters’ father John made the decision to transition his fields of corn and beans to pastureland for grazing in 2009. A few weeks later he reported that the cows were “happier” in a telephone conversation with daughter Amy, away at college at the time. When he voiced a plan to sell the cows in five to seven years the daughters got together to discover a way to save the farm. Cheesemaking seemed the natural choice, and they dove headfirst into research and training, studying with a variety of cheesemakers, taking classes and learning all they could. On the farm they built a 3,300 sq ft facility to incorporate cheesemaking, a retail shop, and a viewing hall in anticipation of guests to the farm. Their cows aren’t given any hormones, if a member of the herd falls ill they utilize homeopathic remedies as the first line of defense. The sisters’ research and hard work is paying off: their herd of 60 jersey cattle produces gorgeous milk, high in butterfat and chock full of vitamins from the natural diet of grass feeding- you can see it in the paste of the cheese with its brilliant yellow hue.
The milk is pumped into a steel cheese vat, where different cultures and rennet are added. This begins the process of differentiation, with different cultures for different cheese styles. As the milk heats the rennet helps coagulate the milk, separating the solid curds from the liquid whey. One the whey is drained off the curd is scooped into cheese hoops, like a cloth or plastic basket, to prepare for pressing.
The molded cheeses are stacked, utilizing gravity to remove excess whey before being taken to the caves for aging. The cheeses are aged in a manmade cave which is modeled after the natural aging caves found in the family’s native Switzerland, for anywhere from 2 to 12 months. In addition to the Forrest Alpine (a raw milk gouda/alpine style), they also produce a havarti, 3 different kinds of jack, cheddars, a tomme style and cheese curds.
As their cheeses become more and more well-known these ladies will bring the family business into future generations.