My wife, mother and I spent several hours at the IL Products Expo in Springfield, finding wonderful examples of entrepreneurs who are carving out niches for their products. There were companies as big as ADM at the Expo but most are more of the “Mom and Pop” type of company. There were producers of popcorn, barbecue sauces, salsa, nuts, honey, spices, pasta, cheese and wine.
I loved seeing the J. D. Mullen Company at the Expo. I’d loved their French dressing as a kid and didn’t know if was still being made in Palestine, IL. The company started 1948 when John Mullen opened a bottling plant with a recipe he discovered when he worked in a small French restaurant.
Eighteen of the sixty IL wineries were there with booths. The oldest IL winery, Baxter Vineyards in Nauvoo (one of my agurbs®) was displaying many of their 13 different products. Their winery offers tours and wine tasting as well as demonstrations from local artisans. I was particularly interested in their involvement in restarting Nauvoo Cheese, a 70 year old maker of Nauvoo Blue Cheese that was sold in 2003 and closed. Bob Hopp and five other local investors have restarted the company at the Baxter Vineyards where you will be able to watch them make their cheese by hand.
Several producers of cheese caught my attention as I toured the Expo. Prairie Pure Cheese (www.prairiepurecheese.com) in Belvidere was started two years ago when two dairy farmers and a vet hired a cheese maker to make their non-hormone cheeses. Lisa Fitzgerald told me, “We got tired of the low prices for our milk and decided to diversify into a more value-added product.”
I’ve said for sometime that some locale is going to set themselves up as the Napa Valley of Cheese. After tasting the production of Prairie Pure Cheese and several other niche producers, I don’t think that it will be long into the future. My only question is: Where will it be located?