The highlight of the week was the arrival our first farm guard animal, a lovely female donkey (aka a jenny) named Jemimah. She is 12 years old (on the young side of middle aged for a donkey) and was the guardian of a flock of sheep for many years. Her owner sold the sheep flock, Jemimah became very lonely and in a need of another flock, so we gladly welcomed her into our herd. We set up a separate pen for her inside the adult goat barn so she could check out the goats, and probably more importantly, so the goats could check her out safely.
She being the greater in size eyed them calmly and without much fanfare--no usual vocalizations (braying is what they call the loud call from the donkey), just slight bewilderment about her new surroundings. The goats, on the other hand, were EXTREMELY curious about their new barn mate:
The long line of heads focused in Jemimah's direction, all ears pointed towards her, was classic goat intrigue (sadly, we didn't get that image on film). They ran back and forth from each end of the barn every time Jemimah took a step towards them. Within a few minutes, they had calmed down some, and a few of the goats--Ritchie and Larissa in particular (both La Mancha, mind you) cautiously approached their adjoining fence. Jemimah got distracted by her first carrot and some delicious alfalfa hay, and soon the goats were going about their usual business--eating their own hay, ruminating, taking a little nap. As Jemimah settles into her new home, we'll gradually give her supervised contact visits with the goats so she bonds with them. I am very optimistic that she will win the goats over with her calming, sweet and mellow personality. Her real job begins in the spring when we will have her on night patrol to protect our newborn goat kids from unwanted predators.
Last Farm Dinner of the Season
In our now traditional fashion, we'll close out the farm dinner season with a beer & cheese dinner in partnership with our friends at the Blind Pig Microbrewery. This dinner is sold out, but I will post the menu on our website: www.prairiefruits.com (under the "Dinners on the Farm"heading, followed by "Dinner Descriptions and Make Reservations" and then under the heading of the December 3rd Beer and Cheese Fete). We'll be serving some beers especially made for the meal along with others that our chef Alisa and Brew Meister, Bill Morgan have selected to accompany each course. It should be lots of fun--a great way to close out a wonderful dinner season--Thank You to all of our dinner guests. Stay tuned for notices about the 2012 dinner season in the early new year.
Farmers Markets and Cheese
We're attending TWO farmers' markets this Saturday, December 3rd: Urbana's Holiday Market and Chicago's Green City Market. Both run from 8AM to 1PM and both are indoors--warm and civilized. Our repertoire is limited, but the cheeses are rich and creamy.
- Fresh chevre--plentiful--plain, herbs de Provence, cracked peppercorn
- Angel Food--goat milk brie
- Little Bloom on the Prairie-goat milk camembert (limited quanities)
All of these cheeses would be wonderful additions to all those holiday parties you'll be attending. Don't forget to stock up on chevre for the winter. We will have more cheeses available as the holidays approach, so stay posted. As always, thank you for your patronage.
Our thanksgiving feast last night was a testament to the abundance of fantastic local food in our midst. Our 20 pound turkey was a pastured, broad-breasted bronze from Triple S Farms, all of the vegetables came from either our own garden or from farmers selling at either the Urbana or Bloomington Farmers' Markets, the stuffing was made with bread from Stewart's Artisan Breads in Mahomet and of course our very own cheese adorned several side dishes.
Tomorrow, both Urbana and Champaign business associations are encouraging holiday shoppers to patronize local businesses. In the spirit of "buy local," I'm encouraging you to come to the Urbana farmers' market inside Lincoln Square Mall tomorrow. The farmers will be back in their usual location on the south entrance of the mall (near Art Mart). I know food is probably the last thing on your minds after thanksgiving feasts, but why not consider food as gifts for family or friends and your out of town guests? You can show off the bounty of central Illinois' food producers. We will be there to serve you with plenty of:
- chevre--plain,herbs de Provence, cracked black peppercorn
- Angel Food (it's on sale this weekend-another nod to post thankgiving shopping deals)
- Little Bloom on the Prairie
- and a few Black Goat rounds.
I may also have a few jars of pickled green tomatoes (goes GREAT with all that leftover turkey) and our ever so chic organic cotton CSG t-shirts. I hope to see you there!!
I know many of you are already busy with Thanksgiving food preparations and/or travel, so I'll be brief. We have decided to offer an on-farm sale & open house TOMORROW (THAT'S TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22ND) FROM 3-6PM. Maybe you missed the Saturday pre-Thanksgiving market, maybe you were deterred by the crowds; whatever the reason, we won't be judgemental. Come on out to the farm to shop, have a complimentary cup of hot, mulled Curtis Orchard Apple cider and see the goats! We'll have plenty of cheese:
- Fresh chevre-will add some zest to your salad or over those roasted beets you plant to make
- Angel Food Brie--you can warm it in the oven with dried fruits, nuts and a little drizzled honey!! yum....
- Little Bloom on the Prairie--perfect for the cheese plate accompanied with jam
- and a few Black Goat-soft ripened goat discs with ash-covered rinds--another beauty for the cheese plate
We have some jams availalbe as well for the cheese plate--a couple of the green tomato and some apple butter, AND a few jars of pickled green tomatoes to serve along with that turkey.
We also have a few pints of gelato for sale--some vanilla, pistachio and buttered walnut I believe (limited quantities).
Lastly, we will have some our organic vegetables for sale:
- Sweet potatoes
- Butternut squash
- Rainbow chard
- White Russion Kale
- Green Savoy Cabbage
- Red Bull's Blood Beets
WOW! Almost everything you might need to fix a scrumptious local food thanksgiving feast! The barn will be heated; we hope to see you here!!
The torch is being past to our next generation of does this week. Since it appears that most of our older does have been bred, we decided to move the breeding bucks into the “kid” barn to begin breeding our yearlings. We have separate pens for Eddie, Mocha and Rex. The plan is to wait until the yearlings show signs of being in heat and then put them with their “arranged” suitor. Since Rex is the smallest of the three bucks, we’re using him as our “heat detector.” Twice a day, we put him on a lead and parade him with the young ones. They are clearly NOT in heat yet, as they flee from him and hide en masse behind the hay feeders. Wes said they reminded him of junior high schools girls at their first dance in the school gym—all packed up, afraid of the boys, but curious at the same time.
For most farmers who sell at farmers’ markets, this weekend’s sales are our equivalent of retailers’ “black Friday.” The weekend before Thanksgiving is THE time of food purchasing to usher in the nation’s ONLY celebration of the seasonal foods. While we recognize that cheese, jams and gelato were not fixtures on the Pilgrim’s thanksgiving table, we know they hold a prominent place in the modern-day thanksgiving feast. After all, our milk is seasonal, our gelato flavors are seasonal and the jams are VERY seasonal.
This Saturday, we are attending THREE farmers’ markets: Urbana, Bloomington and Chicago’s Green City Market. We’ll be bringing lots of cheese for you and our cheesemakers, Nat and Alison have a special holiday message for you:
Hi Everybody! We are Nat and Alison, or Alison and Nat. We make up the dynamic dishwashing (aka cheesemaking) team here at Prairie Fruits Farm. However, for many years preceding the making of it, we sold cheese for Pastoral in Chicago. Although the holiday season can often be a double-edged sword in the world of cheesemongering (that’s cheese parlance for those who sell cheese), there are few things more wonderful than helping the customer build a glorious holiday cheeseboard anointed with all the perfectly complimentary accompaniments.
To that end (and this is selfish, we admit), the only thing better than helping the customer choose the cheese for the plate would be to MAKE the cheese, THEN help the customer choose it. So, here we go!
Let's talk progression. Now, we are not saying that you have to tell Uncle Bob to eat his cheese in this order, or he will get none at all, but arranging your cheese with a wide variation in flavors and textures will knock it out the park. Firstly, start with chevre (I mean who wouldn’t, it goes with everything!). Posing as the delicate quenelle in the lower right of the photo, the role of chevre in a cheese course should not be underestimated. Its high acidity, creamy yet subtly chalky texture can open up the palate for the more assertive cheeses to follow it. So, to the delicious looking number in the upper left hand corner of the photo - a soft-ripened cheese next would be ideal paired with a high acidity, sweet jam such as Alisa’s green-tomato. I am not gonna lie; soft-ripened cheeses are where we are holding all aces, so the choices you have are broad: Angel Food for decadence, Little Bloom on the Prairie for finesse and Black Goat for, well, joie de vivre. In an ideal world, you would end either with Roxanne or Moonglo, the portioned pieces in the top right of our picture. Slightly tangy, grassy, herbal flavors make both of these cheese pair beautifully with apple butters, pears, and all their close relatives. If you get to the farmers’ market early, all of these cheeses will be yours to choose from. In a non-ideal world, you get to market a little late. Well, a chevre, Black Goat, Little Bloom cheese plate is still gonna bring ‘em to their knees.
OH! One final recommendation – Cold cheese is like turkey without gravy, so, for Leslie’s sake, temper your cheese at room temperature for at least one hour before serving.
As Nat and Alison mentioned, we have two jams to accompany these cheeses: green tomato (a lovely sweet-tart jam made with the oodles of green tomatoes we harvested before the last freeze) and heritage apple butter. The apples come from Wolfe Orchard in Monticello, IL. They raise a number of old varieties of apples on the hills of Central Illinois (formed by receding glaciers that left piles of rubble known as terminal moraines)—we chose a medley of apples for this slow cooked apple butter. Alisa was also busy processing the remainder of our green tomatoes into pickled green tomatoes and green tomato relish, and we will have jars of those products available for sale at both Urbana and Bloomington Holiday Markets.
And now I come to the gelato. Stewart was busy in the kitchen one final time this season to prepare several delicious flavors of gelato. We will have pints only for sale at both Urbana and Bloomington:
- Honey Lavender
- Buttered walnut & Maple (with Jarrell family English walnuts)
- Maple Butternut
Lastly, don’t forget to pick up a Prairie Fruits Farm Community Supported Goat T-Shirt (think early holiday presents—beat the rush). They’re organic cotton, large size only and a bargain at $15.
Wes, Leslie, the staff and all the goats at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery wish you all a delicious, local and seasonal thanksgiving holiday. We have A LOT to be thankful for.
Farm News: Setting the clocks back by one small hour this past weekend has had a profound effect on the psyche of humans and goats alike at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. We humans and goats find it ever so slightly more difficult to make our way to the barn in the evening to start the chores. The wood stove is calling me and the desire to make soup with lots of noodles is very strong. The goat girls are slightly more reluctant to venture out of their cozy pens to come on to the milk stand, and their udders are starting to look slightly deflated. It could be the suddenly shortened day length or it could be the realization they are "settled" (livestock terminology for pregnant)--they show no signs of morning sickness, just strong feelings for bedding down and eating lots and lots of hay.
By 4:30 in the afternoon, the chickens are starting their dusk-driven ritual of settling on top the pen railings for the evening roosting. Their egg production has dropped off as well; or it could be that they are laying their eggs deeply nestled into the bottoms of the hay feeders (beyond the reach of my short arms anyway). Chino, the cat, takes his time rousing himself off our bed in the morning and, once outside, he realizes he'd rather be back inside the house (and back on the bed). Speaking of beds, little by little, our garden is being put "to bed" too-Rachel harvested the beets and the carrots this week (in between gusts of wind and bursts of rain showers); the carrots have that frost-kissed sweetness that is irresistible. These beds will now get a nice thick cover of waste hay mulch to tuck them in for the winter. The tomato vines are finally senescing and my desire to harvest one more batch of tomatoes is quiet now.
Farmers' Market Happenings: It's indoors for us this Saturday, November 12th--both Urbana's Holiday Market and Chicago's Green City Markets have moved inside. Both start at the more civilized hour of 8AM and end at 1PM. We've got some kick-butt, creamy cheeses for sale this weekend:
- Plenty of fresh chevre--plain, herbs de Provence and cracked black peppercorn--not too early to buy extras to freeze for the winter
- The last of the FRESH GOAT MILK RICOTTA OF THE SEASON--Nat and Alison, our cheese makers, say this is the best batch ever. Nat recommends blending the ricotta with some fresh herbs (think thyme, sage, rosemary perhaps) and pine nuts and stuffing it inside some home-made raviolis. If that's not enough, he says to buy a nice winter squash like butternut or red kuri, roast it in the oven (with some olive oil), puree the cooked squash, add some chevre and cream to make a scrumptious squash-chevre-cream sauce and serve it over those ricotta-stuffed raviolis. You WILL impress your friends and family if you make this quintessential fall dish.
- Angel Food Brie
- Little Bloom on the Prairie
- maybe--Roxanne (if not this week, then next week for sure)
Speaking of small but delicious cheese, I have to brag a little bit. A few weekends ago, someone emailed us to say "hey, did you know you're in the Wall Street Journal??" Well, much to our surprise (and glee), our farm and our cheeses were mentioned in an article in their weekend edition about great cheeses in small packages. I am including a link to the pdf version of this article for your enjoyment: http://sfc.smallfarmcentral.com/dynamic_content/uploadfiles/167/Prairie%20Fruits%20Farms.wallstreet.journal.pdf
Lastly, we thought we had sold all of our CSG t-shirts last year, but as I was rummaging through piles of paper this week (in my attempt to clean up some of the clutter held over from the spring) I found a whole box full of Large, organic cotton T-shirts with the ever-so-chic montage of goat girl heads on the back. They're only $15, and they are unique (soon to be a collector's item--can't say when though). We will have them for sale through the holiday season until they're gone--so if you don't have one yet, now is your chance--GREAT gift idea!!
Yes, these wild turkeys are on the march, most likely anticipating the impending shift from glorious fall days to winter. Wes and I were fortunate to witness this turkey stroll several weeks ago at Moraine View State Park-they exuded grace and confidence while walking calmly along the main park road no less. Most of those fall leaves are gone now, especially with the steady rain we have had all day today. A Cooper's hawk took shelter from the rain in our goat barn this morning, flushing English Sparrows and Starlings into the cold and wet. The result was an eerie silence (except for the sounds of goats munching on their morning hay and occasional snorts as they rid their nostrils of hay dust). I sometimes wish the hawk would take up more permanent residence inside the barn, as non-native sparrows and starlings are just messy rats with wings. It was clear that neither the goats nor the chickens were bothered by his presence, and they certainly didn't miss the squaking sparrows either.
This is the time of year that we start peeling off outdoor farmers' markets. We're down to Urbana this Saturday, November 5th. NEXT WEEK (NOVEMBER 12TH) WE WILL START THE INDOOR MARKET SEASON AT BOTH URBANA (INSIDE LINCOLN SQUARE MALL NEAR ARTMART) AND GREEN CITY MARKET (AT THE PEGGY NOTEBART NATURE MUSEUM)-STAY POSTED FOR DETAILS ON BOTH OF THESE HOLIDAY MARKETS. The weather forecast is calling for warm and sunny, so you have no excuses but to come out and support your local farmers. We have a nice repertoire of cheese and gelato for you:
- Fresh chevre--plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper--get it while it's plentiful
- Angel Food--while just ripe, the cheese has a definitely creaminess, now that the goats' milk butterfat content is on the rise
- Fresh Goat Milk Ricotta--it is nice 'n sweet--perfect for a pasta dish or pairing with fresh fruit and honey
- Moonglo-this batch of our raw goat milk tomme was made in July during the height of the heat and drought. The texture is a bit drier than our early and late lactaction batchs, but the flavor is slightly tangy and complex, reminiscent of those sizzling summer nights (seems like a very distant memory right now)
- Roxanne--yes, we were able to squeeze in one final batch of our raw sheep milk brebis (Pyrenees style of cheese) before our sheep milk supply dried up for the season. The cheese has a wonderful rich, buttery taste "A real crowd pleaser" (direct quote from Nat, one of our cheesemakers)
For, gelato, we have limited (but delicious) offerings in both quantity (pints and single servings) and diversity:
- Simply Vanilla
- Luscious Chocolate
- Sicilian Pistachio
- Maple Butternut
- Sweet Potato
REMINDER: There are few seats left for the Farm to Table dinner featuring our cheeses at Birchwood Kitchen in Chicago's Wicker Park Neighborhood.The menu is now posted on their website: www.birchwoodkitchen.com and it looks AMAZING!! Come on out and join us Saturday, November 5th (7:30PM) $50 (BYOB) gets you a delicious local food meal. For reservations, call the restaurant at: 773-276-2100.
Farm thoughts: It's the time of year that our ancient seasonal biological clocks send subliminal signals to slow down, seek the comfort of a couch and consume foods that keep us warm. In the goat world, this translates to putting on thick winter coats, inhaling as much hay as we put in front of them and sleeping in large communal snuggle piles. Cheese and gelato aren't normally considered "cold weather comfort foods," but they make great accompaniments to those cold weather dishes. How about grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup? Our chef, Alisa, recently made a first course for our fall vegetarian meal that consisted of grilled Little Bloom on the Prairie cheese sandwiches and a luscious tomato bisque. The course evoked fond childhood memories taken up a culinary notch, if you know what I mean.
Looking for something to make with all those tomatoes you canned? Just sauté some chopped onions and garlic in a large saucepan (you can add some chopped fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary if you like), add some stock (either vegetable or chicken stock), add the home-canned tomatoes, whip out the stick blender and puree everything right in the pot--season with salt and pepper, add some milk or heavy cream and you'll never reach for a can of Campbells again!Gelato, you're thinking, is harder sell for warmth and comfort; but not if it tops a warm apple or pear crisp! Pumpkin pie a la mode anyone? I am flush with all of these food pairing ideas racing through my seasonal brain telling me to stay inside and do lots of cooking!
This Saturday, October 29th, marks the end of the outdoor market for both Chicago's Green City Market (Green Citu Market moves north to the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum starting November 5th) and the Bloomington Farmers' Market. We will be attending both markets as well as the Urbana Farmers' Market. I will be at Green City Market to serve our Chicago customers, while Alison (one half of our cheesemakers) will attend to our Bloomington customers and Nat (the other half of our cheesemakers) and Wes will serve our Urbana customers. Cheesewise, we've got a nice lineup for you:
- Plenty of fresh chevre--plain, herbs de Provence, cracked peppercorn
- Angel Food-great with warm fruit compote
- Little Bloom on the Prairie-how about a grilled cheese sandwich
- VERY limited quantities of Moonglo-just slice it and eat it!
- Mollisol Pecorino-shave it on a casserol or grate it over a nice french onion soup!
- Fresh Goat Milk Ricotta-another comfort food ingredient for stuffed shells or lasagna!!
For our Urbana market goers, our gelato offerings include:
- Hazelnut (limited quantities)
- Honey Lavender
- Cinnamon (limited quantities)-perfect for apple pie warm out of the oven
- Maple Butternut (this is the PERFECT flavor for halloween)
- Pear Ginger sorbetto
- Apple Cardamom sorbetto (limited quantities
Other News: If you're looking for great food evening on November 5th and you happen to be in Chicago, please consider joining us at the Birchwood Kitchen in the Wicker Park neighborhood for a Farm to Table Illinois Cheesemaker Dinner. Here's some more details:
Limited seats for the BYOB event are $50 and require advanced reservations. Birchwood Kitchen is an intimate, seasonally focused cafe in Chicago's Wicker Park, phone 773.276.2100.
Due to some recent cancellations, I have 6 seats available for this Saturday's farm dinner (October 29th) with guest chef Jared Van Camp of Chicago's Old Town Social. Jared is affectionately known as "Chicago's Charcuterie King," and his planned meal is an ode to downhome southern cookin'. The seats are $100 each. As with most of our farm dinners, the event starts at 4PM with hors d'oeuvres and a tour of the farm. We typically sit down to the first course around 5:30PM and end around 8PM. You can bring your own wine, or let us select wines for you from our wine list (also posted on our website). Given the weather and the time of year, we will be dining inside. If you haven't had the pleasure of eating Jared's food, this is a true culinary delight.
To purchase seats, go to our website: www.prairiefruits.com Then, click on the heading "Dinners on the Farm" then click on "Dinner Descriptions and Make Reservations" and scroll to the "October 29th Urban Cowboy" dinner. You will need to scroll down the description to see the menu and to purchase the seats.
After the winds and side-ways rains of yesterday, we decided to move the doelings from their outdoor area back into the barn. I have to say that this crop of doelings seems to be a lot hardier than their wimpy mothers. Despite the cold and stinging rains yesterday, they ventured out of their little warm igloos to grab mouthfuls of hay and snatch up all the blowing fallen leaves (they snack on 'em just like potato chips). They've put on nice winter coats, but the dampness and muddiness were too much for ME, so we ran them to a nice cozy dry barn. Once there, they were so excited that they ran wind sprints from one end of their pen to the other.
FARMERS' MARKET NEWS
This Saturday is our LAST Oak Park Farmers' Market. We will be in Urbana as well.
We'll be running a special for our Oak Park marketgoers to encourage you to stock up on chevre (yes, you can buy lots of chevre and freeze it to have over the long cold lonely winter months): BUY 7 GET ONE FREE!!!
So, here's what to expect at the farmers' markets:
- plenty of fresh chevre--plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper
- Angel Food (brie)- limited quantities
- Little Bloom on the Prairie
- Moonglo (limited quantities)
- Pecorino Romano
- Honey Lavender
- Maple-Butternut Gelato
- Apple-Cardamom Sorbetto
- Butternut Sorbetto
- Pear-Ginger Sorbetto