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Feline love found and lost, farewell to our cheese maker, winter beauty on the farm, holiday market

Posted 12/13/2018 11:05pm by Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell.

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Farm News

Don’t tell our dogs, but at heart, I’m a cat person.  Growing up, we were not allowed pets, save for some fish and an occasional “Woolworth” turtle.  This prohibition did not deter us kids from setting clandestine bowls of milk underneath our porch steps for stray cats.  A kaleidoscope of colored cats and kittens came and went from under our house; some became tame enough to let us pet them or, even better, pick them up and cuddle them. For the chosen few who let us into their lives, our greatest thrill was to let them inside the house when our mother wasn’t home. 

In the context of my long history of attraction to stray cats, I spied a lovely Siamese cat hunting in the fields a little over two months ago.  It seemed odd that a Siamese cat would be feral.  Over the ensuing weeks, we would see him hunting in our pasture, and sometimes Blue would be found barking incessantly in the orchard, only to find the Siamese cat high up in an apple tree.  Slowly he/she (we could never get close enough to assess the gender; we’ll go with male for now) made his way into the goat barns; there he found a bountiful supply of mice on which to subsist. He took up residence underneath a junk pile in the kid barn; sometimes Erica would spot him in a feed bunk or taking a stroll through the chicken coop (he never harmed the hens). 

He would never let us get close, affirming our suspicions that someone had discarded him some time ago. Then, early on a Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, we found him hiding inside our barn dining room.  Not sure how he got inside, we attempted to tame the savage beast with a bowl of warm goat milk and some wet cat food.  Hunger overtook fear; he inhaled the milk and the cat food, retreating underneath the furniture if any human came too close. 

The guests started to arrive for brunch, and we continued to place a bowl of warm milk under a chair for him to indulge.  A guest noticed this striking yet timid feline and put her fingers to the ground to draw him near.  Her cat whisperer aura wafted in his direction and within minutes, he was letting her pet him. The dam had broken, and now he was rolling over, exposing his belly to be petted. Soon, he was performing his Siamese cat song to all the guests who were smitten by his charm.

I too was smitten. I had been watching him from afar for nearly two months, hoping I could convince him to trust me.  Within a matter of hours, he had gone from skittish and elusive to friendly, demanding and affectionate.  After allowing us to get close enough to check out his anatomy, it was clear he was an intact male.  Since most pet cats are neutered, I assumed he was truly feral.  I got him set up with cat food, water and his own litter box. I dewormed him and treated him with flea treatment. I made him an appointment to see our vet. He worked his feline spell over me, with his endearing blue cross-eyes and his classic Siamese meow.  We named him Simon.

When I took him to our vet, she began her exam, noting how tame and friendly he was.  She too was perplexed by how quickly he had transformed from wild to domestic. When she waved her scanner over his head, a beep went off, signaling an ID chip. We were both stunned. After a couple of phone calls, we located the rightful owners. They are neighbors who told me he had gone missing in mid-September. They assumed he had either been killed by a combine (it was harvest season) or taken by a coyote.  His name was Parsley, and he had already fathered a couple of litters of kittens (hence the reason they hadn’t neutered him).  They came to the farm to retrieve him, the husband so happy he cried with joy.  I gave my Simon a final hug and returned him to his owners, to his life as Parsley.

Farewell to our Cheese Maker

This week, we say a fond farewell to our head cheese maker, Lynn. She came to us from Colorado, having grown up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Although she started in our creamery with no cheese making experience, her love of dairy and her strong background in science and food safety allowed her to learn the craft rather quickly.  After a couple of years, with her cheese-making “partner in crime,” Dani, she began to master both the art and science of cheese making. 

For five seasons, she has toiled over sinks full of dirty cheese molds, flipped and wrapped countless little bloomy rind cheeses and packed thousands of containers of fresh chevre. The other day she informed she had made close to 1200 batches of cheese and over 90 batches of gelato base in her tenure at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. She leaves for new adventures in her professional career. We will miss her hard work ethic, her attention to detail and her striving for the perfect rind.

Beauty in winter Earlier this week, the farm was enveloped in shroud of glorious snow fog. The result: Hoar frost. Definition: a grayish-white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor formed in clear still weather on vegetation, fences, etc. Check out our photo collage and see for yourselves and enjoy the beauty.

Farmers’ Market and Farm Store (aka The Real Stand) Offerings

We’re back at the indoor “Market in the Square” inside Lincoln Square Mall this Saturday, 8 AM to 12:15 PM. We have our regular spot next to Blue Moon Farm. If you miss us at the market, come see us at the farm. We’re open 1-4 PM Saturdays and Sundays through December 23rd.

If you think our farm is far from town, in fact, we are REALLY close to Champaign-Urbana—literally 5 miles from each downtown. We are also within two miles of both I-74 and I-57.  Follow directions on our website if you’re not familiar.

The line-up of cheeses has diminished, but the flavors of what we have to offer will sure to delight your holiday guests. In short work, our cheeses will be the star attraction of your perfect appetizers:

  • Fresh chevreplain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper-the milk is SUPER rich and the texture of the chevre is perfect for a simple holiday dip. Try one of our flavored chevre, or just drizzle the plain chevre with some local honey or a balsamic vinegar reduction, serve with raw or pickled veggies.
  • Goat Milk Feta: Our flavorful and tangy feta is aged and packed in whey brine. It's perfect to crumble on a fall salad or a top a hearty stew or bowl of chili.  Try it on a home-made pizza too.
  • Spiced Feta in Extra Virgin Olive Oil-just in time for the holidays, this ready-made appetizer is perfect with some crusty bread and a jar of fancy pickles. It’s all dressed up and ready to go home with you. Let the container come to room temperature so that the congealed olive oil liquefies.
  • Moonglo: Spring milk batches of this raw milk tomme (sort of like a Gouda, but not really) produce a more mild, tangy paste with hints of pineapple. The texture of the cheese is a bit more firm than fall milk batches. Melts well, or just slice and enjoy with your favorite salami or use in place of swiss style cheeses for a fondue (NOTE: We have a couple of pieces of Green Peppercorn-Barley Wine Moonglo left—come early to grab these guys).
  • Gelato: If you’re looking for a perfect accompaniment to your decadent holiday desserts, try our gelato. We only have pints of vanilla and red currant sorbetto left. These are the last pints of the season, as we are not making more gelato until next year. Pints only at the market ($10 each or 3 for $27); scoops at the farm during open hours.

We’ll be bringing some other gift items to the market including tea towels, t-shirts, batik aprons, jams, condiments, goat stew meat.

Farm Products Featured in our Farm Store

  • Meats, Poultry and Eggs from Bane Family Meats, Sidney IL
  • Artisan Sausages by Piemonte Sausage Co, Urbana, IL (Bernies Classic Sweet, Cantaloupo and bulk Chorizo)
  • Locally milled wheat flour from the Mill at Janie’s Farm, Ashkum, IL
  • Honey from Two Million Blooms, Champaign-Urbana, IL
  • House-made jams-seckel pear, red currant, rhubarb, red pepper jelly
  • House made savory sauces—caponata, pear chutney, salsa verde, green tomato relish
  • Artisan Cured Salamis from Underground Meats, Madison, WI
  • Tulsi Tea from Delight Flower Farm-tulsi is a variety of basil known for its sweet aroma and medicinal properties. With a spoonful of honey, this tea will warm you up and keep you healthy during the cold months ahead.
  • PFFC goat meat—we have one pound packages of stew meat (1 lb. packages, $13/lb.). Pasture raised, very lean and mild, try the meat that most of the rest of the world enjoys regularly. 
  • Fire Cider: Locally fermented brew that will keep winter colds at bay.
  • Goat Milk Soaps by Red Barn Farm—made with goat milk, organic olive oil and organic coconut oil and herbs or essential oils (no artificial fragrances). They are pure and gentle on the skin: $6.50/bar or 3 for $19

NEW in the store:

  • Folkmanis screaming Nubian goat hand puppet.  Check out the newest of our line of goat puppets. This beautiful dappled Nubian hollers like the real deal when squeezed. It’s a must have for the goat lover in your life ($56/each).
  • Rustic cheese boards--hand-made from wood milled right on the farm (maple, cherry, ash)—these 3-4 ft. boards are lightly stained with a coffee stain. They are perfect for creative a simple and elegant cheese and wine board for your holiday entertaining. ONLY $30/each!!

Visit the Farm during Open Hours

Thank you to all who have come out over the past few weekends to take pictures with our holiday goats and enjoy some food and beverage in our holiday pop-up café.  It was busy and festive around here. We hope you all enjoyed yourselves as much as we did. 

There are two more weekends left before we close the farm for the winter. Come visit during open hours: Saturdays & Sundays, 1-4 PM. Pet the goats, enjoy the natural surroundings in early winter (the farm is really beautiful this time of year), relax inside our cozy farm store with a warm drink from our goat milk coffee bar, a glass of wine or beer and a “build your own” cheese board.  It’s a great way to de-stress and enjoy a little reprieve from the holiday hustle and bustle.   

Copyright 2018. Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, LLC. 2018. All rights reserved. 4410 N. Lincoln Ave., Champaign, Illinois 61822 Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, LLC is responsible for the content of this email. Please contact Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell with any inquiries.