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Tales from the vat, market offerings and farm happenings

Posted 6/29/2018 10:17am by Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell.

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Farm News

This past week, while one of our cheese makers was on vacation, I stepped back into the daily routines of making cheese. The singular focus on transforming milk to curds and whey was a welcome respite from my current routine of juggling five or six disparate tasks aimed at keeping the farm afloat.  The seemingly tedious tasks of setting up vats, transferring milk, ladling curds, washing dishes, washing tomme-style cheeses and scrubbing floors provide dignity and a sense of accomplishment.

A typical day in our creamery starts sometime between 7:00-7:30 in the morning.  Our head cheese maker, Lynn, has already worked out the hard part of juggling cheese make schedules, so we know our general game plan at the day’s onset. The first person in the creamery goes through the opening procedures of checking room temperatures and humidity levels, making sure all of the equipment is working, preparing sanitizer for use throughout the day and cleaning work surfaces. 

Then, we set up the cheese vat to receive milk, and the milk is slowly pumped from the bulk tank.  There is a bit of art in the simple act of transferring milk. The trick is to engage the pump just enough to get the milk to flow slowly, but not too fast so the milk gushes.  Goat milk fats and proteins are fragile, and when the milk is overly agitated, the disruption of fats and proteins can produce off flavors. 

Milk is the perfect medium for growing microbes, both good and bad. Cleaning all of the places where milk flows is an integral part to running a successful farmstead creamery.  There is a very prescribed, multi-step procedure to ensure that no traces of milk or milk components remain on stainless steel surfaces.  A creamery is no place for a cavalier dish washer.  To the contrary, those who thrive as cheesemakers have borderline obsessive-compulsive tendencies. 

The ebb and flow of the day vacillates from time sensitive tasks (culturing, renneting, cutting curd, ladling curd) to those that need to be done by the end of the day (packing chevre, wrapping cheeses, washing tommes, cleaning aging rooms, washing dishes).  Full immersion in the quotidian tasks of moving milk, cleaning and tending to the aging cheeses provides time for the mind to wander.  It provides time for sleuthing as well.  Most of the greatest joys and frustrations of running a small, farmstead creamery relate to the changes of the seasons, and really the daily changes in milk.  As the more routine tasks are mastered, the cheese makers’ obsessions relate to understanding how the milk “behaves” in and out of the cheese vat, and following the threads that might explain differences from batch to batch.   The duality of milk and environment in flux and constancy of routine are what fuel the cheese maker and what substantiate the sense of a job well done. 

Text Message Customer Loyalty Program 

This week’s market special involves two limited offering special cheeses. To get the message with the special info, you’ll need to sign up: text either “GOAT” or “URBANA” or “FARMSTORE” to 30500 to sign up. 

Farmers’ Market Offerings –Stock Up on Cheese and Gelato for the Holiday Week Ahead

Next Wednesday is the 4th of July, so why not come to the market this Saturday to stock up on picnic staples (cheese & gelato in my book).  We have a couple of special cheeses for you this weekend. We’ve also got some new gelato flavors you need to try. It’s going to be VERY hot this weekend, so come early to the market to beat the heat and get the best selections.

  • Fresh chevre: plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper—so versatile, so delicious. Put it on everything you can find from the market this weekend.
  • Fresh ricotta: Our Italian basket-style goats’ milk ricotta is delicate and mild. It’s the perfect foil for fresh berries and local honey or a quick summer pasta of grilled summer squash and mushrooms.  Very limited offering, so come early to the market.
  • Goat Milk Feta: Summer is “feta season!” We are now making our feta with pasteurized milk. It’s still aged in whey brine, imparting all the wonderful complex flavors you’ve come to expect from our feta. With salad season upon us (and soon the arrival of sweet corn), creamy-crumbly feta is in order.
  • Little Bloom on the Prairie: This batch is almost perfectly ripe this weekend.  Try grilling it for a few minutes. Then, serve with a local honey or a tart jam.
  • Angel Food: our little “mini-brie” or crottin style bloomy rind; this batch of Angel Food is firm and tangy.  It could be sliced into rounds, lightly breaded and pan-fried for topping a bed of fresh greens.
  • Black Goat: an ash-coated bloomy with a delicate and crinkly yeasty rind. This batch is ripening nicely, and it has a sublime fudgy consistency and a hint of yeastiness on the rind.  Try pairing with spicy dry-cured salami.
  • Moonglo: fall-milk, tomme-style cheese; the texture of this semi-hard cheese is soft and supple like Gouda, but the taste is sharp and fruity. Ask for a taste if you’ve never had it before. Try it on crusty bread with onion jam or caramelized onions. Try melting it for a gourmet grilled cheese.
  • Market Special: APPLEWOOD-SMOKED MOONGLO:  Our friends at Black Dog Smoke & Ale House graciously smoked a few wheels of our Moonglo with Applewood chips. The result: a deliciously smoky firm and complex cheese.   We think it’s pretty great, and it pairs well with sliced fruit—try it with first of the season market peaches.  Very limited offering, so come early. 
  • Huckleberry Blue: our limited late fall goats’ milk blue cheese—it’s a gateway to blue cheeses; creamy texture, not overly blue-veined (or sharp in a blue way). This cheese is great crumbled on a salad, sliced and warmed on a steak or burger OR served on baguette with a fig jam or walnut balsamic vinegar reduction (this is an amazing combination). This cheese is ONLY available directly from us—no wholesale buyers have this cheese right now.

Gelato:  We are back to a full supply of gelato pints for this weekend.  Nothings says Independence Day celebration than pie with a scoop of ice cream (gelato is ice cream after all). Here are the flavors this week:

  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Stracciatella (chocolate ganache “chip)
  • Salted Caramel Swirl
  • Mint Chocolate Chip (made with fresh “chocolate mint” leaves)
  • Fruitti di Bosco (mixed berry-all local strawberries, raspberries and blueberries)
  • Cucumber-Lime-Mint Sorbetto (very refreshing, more like an “Italian ice” in texture)
  • Blueberry Sorbetto (made with southern IL blueberries from Pitcher Patch Farm)

DON’T FORGET: we have a new spot at the farmers’ market--Urbana Market at the Square. We are in spot #20 on the south-west (along Illinois Street) end of the market. We are right next to Moore Family Farm.

Farm Store Summer Hours

Now through the end of August, we are open Wednesdays-Fridays, 3-7 pm, as well as Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4 pm. The farm is a tranquil green space where you can come after work to unwind. During our open hours, you can “build your own” cheese boards—pick out your cheeses, add a salami (Underground Meats) or jar of jam or pickled veggies, grab some Lucky Pierre bagel chips and we’ll provide the board. You can sit outside under our new pavilion roof and enjoy a glass of wine or beer with cheese! We have lots of shades spots to get you out of the hot sun. 

NOTE: For Wednesday, July 4th we will be open from 3-6 pm to give folks time to get to fireworks. 

If you just want to come out to do a little shopping in farm store, we’ll have cheese and scoops of gelato as well as other farmer products: locally milled whole wheat flour from The Mill at Janie’s Farm, meats, poultry eggs from Bane Family Meats, Piemonte Sausages and Jams from Autumn Berry Inspired and Prairie Fruits Farm “merch.”

Check out the new products by Sarah Stewart (our former gelato maker); pickled ramps, pickled shitake mushrooms, pickled yellow summer squash, fermented green garlic in brine and spring pestos (frozen--green garlic-pistachio and wild ramp). 

Mark your calendars for our next summer “Wine Tasting with Michael event—Thursday, July 12th, 5-7 pm. Michael will be pouring a few featured wines from our portfolio of organic and biodynamic wines. We’ll feature a lovely white and a rose from Sardinia, a Spanish Cava (bubbly), as well as a few lighter reds that pair well with our bloomy rind cheeses.

We also are hosting a couple of upcoming events with Delight Flower Farm and The Land Connection.  You can get more information about these either from Delight Flower Farm or TLC:

  • Sunday, July 1st, 6:30-8:00 pm: Kombucha with Flowers Workshop-Delight Flower Farm
  • Thursday, July 12th, 6:00-8:00 pm: Weed Dating (Delight and The Land Connection are organizing this event)
  • Friday, July 13th, 7:00-8:30 pm: Summer Flower Arranging—Delight Flower Farm

Dinners on the Farm: Our 2018 season is underway and guests are enjoying fabulous meals served under the roof of our new pavilion. Summer is a great time to enjoy dining outside at the farm. We have some fantastic themes for summer “A Southern Style Seafood Boil,” “A Cheesy Affair” (with guest chef from Pastoral Appellation Wine Bar) and “Summer Vegetarian” (with guest chef Dan Compton of Vie Restaurant). Hurry; tickets are going fast.

Plan a get-away weekend in Central IL this summer: If you’re thinking about coming to one of our farm dinners this summer (or fall for that matter), and you’re coming from far away, why not make a weekend of it? We are partnering with Moon Grove Farm, a new farm B&B located in Mahomet (only 20-25 minutes’ drive west of our farm) to offer a special package deal with our July 21st Southern Style Seafood Boil Dinner. Stay tuned for details. 

Do you dream of having goats in your life?  Do you want a family milk goat? How about for brush control or rural pet? Goats are wonderful working animals and affectionate companions too. We have great breeding stock with excellent health and milk records.  We have doelings for future milking. We also have retired does, bucklings and wethers for grazing/brush control and companion animal needs. Check out what's available (we have pictures on our Facebook page) and contact us if interested. 

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.