Firefly Grill Field Trip
Last week I took a road trip with Firefly Grill’s (owners/chef) Kristie & Niall to Greenville*, IL. This sleepy town is home to an Illinois artisanal cheese maker: Marcoot Jersey Creamery. It didn’t take us long to realize this was indeed a special place.
As soon as we arrived, we met Amy Marcoot. She and her sister, Beth, are their family’s 7th generation to own the farm. However, it was their entrepreneurial spirit that inspired them to be the first generation to make cheese to sell it to the public in 2010. They make over 15 different types of cheeses, ice cream, and their newest product Whey Ice right there on site.
They sell all their products plus a smattering of other items in their small general store front. At 1PM Monday – Friday they give tours to the public and their operation is fascinating. Plus the baby cows are adorable!!! Marcoot is definitely worth a field trip! However if you can’t make your way over, you can find their cheeses in over 250 grocery stores and restaurants from Springfield, MO to Effingham, IL.
Most of the St. Louis Dierberg’s grocery stores carry Marcoot cheese as well as coffee shops like Park Avenue Coffee in Lafayette Square and Joe Sipper’s in Effingham, IL. Firefly Grill also has an excellent charcuterie board that will soon be featuring Marcoot’s premium cheese.
Marcoot is Whey Ahead
What is whey and why the terrible pun? First off, whey is the water by-product that’s produced during the cheese making process. As the milk solids form cheese, the leftover water is whey. Larger cheese makers will sell this liquid to processing plants that dehydrate it and create whey protein powder. It has a mild flavor, protein, some carbs and it’s fat free. As far as the pun goes, well… I just couldn’t help myself. But more importantly, WHEY ICE is the stroke of absolute genius. This is a delicious treat made from whey and fruit. That’s it… period. No added sugar either. It’s very similar to a slushy and when frozen it’s a lot like an Italian ice or a sorbet. It’s light, refreshing and you’ll be seeing it in grocery stores soon!
Illinois Artisanal Cheese
On our tour, I was delighted when Amy took us down into the cheese cave. This is not part of the public tour only because space is extremely limited. There was barely enough room for the 4 of us. As we snaked our way through the corridors of cheese wheels, I was very relived not to be claustrophobic. Every conceivable area was taken up with cheese. Yes, I was in heaven.
During our visit, Amy shared with us that she never planned on taking over the farm. She went to college and had a thriving career and so did her sister, Beth. When their father called and said he was selling the farm, the sisters came home and decided this was their passion and a legacy they were not ready to relinquish.
For the first 7 years, they literally poured everything into it they had. They even took on loans to invest in the latest technology for the well being of their herd. Marcoot cheese has No artificial flavors, colors, preservatives… Just milk, salt, heart & soul.
One of the main reasons I was so excited to see the behind the scenes at the Marcoot farm was I adore farm animals. Chickens, pigs, cows… you name it, I love it! It was easy to tell Amy loves her cows too. Their largest investment they’ve made has been in the state of the art Lely Astronaut robotic milker. Wow! This technology allows cows to manage their own milking schedule. The cows wear a comfortable necklace that is a lot like a Fitbit, but better. It tracks their location, temperature, chewing, eating times, when they’re going into heat… it does everything but read their minds. And I don’t know, it might even do that.
When one of the herd gets hungry, they walk to the milking station. The robot identifies the cow by name and number, then finds their utters, cleans them, milks them (while they eat) and analyzes the milk. When it’s done, the cow moves on and another takes it’s place on her own. These are some happy cows!
Ok, Amy didn’t call it the nursery, but I did. Aside from the cheese tasting, this was the best part of the day! These little guys ranged from a few days old to older adolescents (but better behaved).
Each time I walked over to a pen, they’d come over to investigate. Watching the calves check us out with their big baby brown eyes, it was everything I could do not to talk Jerry into raising baby calves when I got home. Lord knows, I’m still trying to talk him into chickens.
Are these guys just not the cutest!!!
Cheese Glorious Cheese!
Amy wrapped up our tour with a farmstead cheese tasting. Oh YUM! Nom nom nom!!! (I get a little excited around cheese). We tried 8 different cheeses. I’ve listed them in the order of my most favorite first.
Tomme – A hard cheese very much like a Parmesan Romano blend. It’s spicy and sharp. So good on an arugula salad with olive oil, salt, lemon & pear slices.
Heritage – A hard cheese with a really nice bite and some sharper notes. I like this one best all on it’s own.
Mozzarella – Very Fresh!!! Not quite as soft as mozzarella made with buffalo milk, but very smooth & mild. I could eat it all day by itself and skip the pizza.
Tipsy – At first bite, it has a very mild flavor and then you get the best beer taste ever! So good!!! You can’t hardly wait to the next nibble.
Coffee – They make this one for Park Avenue Coffee but they sell it at the store. I really liked it a lot. The coffee marbles it’s way through the cheese and it compliments it beautifully.
Smoked Gouda – Very smokey and I would love to make a grilled cheese out of it with sliced pears.
Alpine – This is Marcoots’ version of Swiss. It’s mild and not overly “Swiss-y”, not too tangy, with just enough kick to hold it’s own in a ham sandwich.
White Cheddar – A very mild cheese that’s easy to get along with and likes long walks on the beach… preferably with a bottle of wine.
And that concluded our Firefly Field Trip to Marcoot Jersey Creamery. What a fun day! Definitely check for their cheese whenever you can or stop by for a bag of cheese curds and see the calves. Say hi to Amy for me when you do!
*Greenville, IL – This the largest SPEED TRAP this side of the Mississippi River. So WATCH OUT!!! When you get within 30 minutes of Greenville… slow the freak down. I’m not kidding.