LOCAL FLAVOR: PRAIRIE FRUITS FARM VISIT
This past Monday, eight Longman & Eagle staffers visited Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, in Champaign Illinois. We started with a tour of the cheese making facility. What’s impressive about Prairie Fruits is how beautifully simple the process is. Goats are milked in one room, the milk travels roughly forty feet, and is pasteurized at a low temperature and churned into cheese in the same container. At peak, the herd of 50 goats makes about 50 gallons. The goats are milked twice a day. After the simple cheese is made, it is then ladled into molds and treated differently to make different cheeses. The cheeses are separated in different treatment rooms conditioned for each particular style. The bloomy rind cheeses (Angel Food and Little Bloom on the Prairie) must be separated because the bloom spores would spread to the other cheeses.
Other pictured cheeses include wheels of Moonglow, Robbiola, Black Goat, and Roxanne. Their blue cheese is pierced only once to develop its blue veins and that they stack their cheeses according to age, so that the ones on top are the ‘oldest’ and therefore closest to completion.
Leslie Cooperband was our guide throughout the tour. She and her husband own the farm and have been making cheese for about ten years. Leslie told us it was sort of a happy accident that they starting making goat cheese. They moved to Champaign, Illinois because Wes, Leslie’s husband, got a job at U of I. Originally soil experts, they moved to their farm and simply had a few goats. It was a surprise when two kidded (had baby goats) and Leslie and Wes unexpectedly had milk with which to make cheese. According to Leslie, she had Wisconsin cheese making friends to guide her, but is otherwise a (spectacularly) self-taught endeavor.
Leslie believes in farmstead cheeses, which means that the milk and cheese are made in the same place. It was obvious how important her role with the goats was in equal balance to the cheese making. They currently have two types of goats, La Mancha and Nubian. After touring the cheese making facility, we met the goats. The herd is about 50 goats. We went into the barn and – upon hearing us – the herd came rambling in. The kids (baby goats) were very affectionate, leaning through the fence to nibble and butt heads with us.
After tasting through their cheeses (we were all blown away by the fresh feta and blue cheese), we sat and picnicked with Leslie then headed to the orchard to pick peaches and blackberries. A peach called the Belle of Georgia really stole the show. We left full and happy, much more knowledgeable about cheese making than before. The warm and purist method towards their farming really shone. Come in this week to try some Prairie Fruits Farm cheese, featured as long as available on our cheese plate. We hope to travel there again real soon.
- Elana Green