I realize it is a bit early in the week to be receiving an email from me, but I am so excited about the menu Chef Alisa has dreamed up for our next farm dinner "A Backyard Barbeque" that I had to share it with everyone. I especially want to share with those of you who will be attending the dinner so you can plan your wine and beer selections to accompany the meal. We're featuring chicken and beef from Triple S Farms in Stewardson IL, and farmer Stan Schutte will be our guest of honor that evening.
To view the menu, go to our website (www.prairiefruits.com) and click on Dinners on the Farm, then "Dinner Descriptions and Make Reservations." Look for the "Backyard Barbeque" dinner and then click on "more details" to find the description and the tentative menu. The house-made veggie pickles are sure to amaze everyone.
I also want to let Chicagoans know that we are now attending a mid-week farmers' market: The Andersonville neighborhood farmers' market, every Wednesday evening from 3-8PM. This week, we should have plenty of fresh chevre (plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper), Angel Food (our brie style cheese made with goat milk), Little Bloom on the Prairie (our signature goat milk camembert style cheese), Ewe Bloom (mold ripened sheep milk gooeyness), Black sheep (a soft ripened sheep milk cheese with ash on the rind), Prairie Dropseed (a blend of sheep and goat milk in a delicate mold ripened ball--creamy crumbly texture that is perfect for a salad or to finish a pasta dish), Roxanne (a raw sheep milk brebis-Pyrennes style; aged 2 months; semi-hard with a buttery and slightly nutty flavor) and some of our melt in your mouth sheep milk ricotta. Please come visit Cesar at the market and he will sure to give you a taste of all of these cheeses.
This week's news could easily be about the weather. This time of year, farmers lament the rain, the heat, the weeds, the resultant crop disease, the ritual onslaught of Japanese beetles decsending upon the berry bushes, the drop in milk production due to the weather, etc. However, this week's news is about a birth. A BIRTH, you ask; isn't it kind of LATE in the season for does to be having babies?? Well, Peppermint Pattie, the doe who had to undergo an emergency cesarean (C) section last year when we couldn't extract an enormously large buck kid from her, decided to go into labor Monday night, just as Aaron (our herdsman) was finishing up the milking chores. The kid was presented normally--front legs and head first, that is, but she was clearly having trouble birthing him. So, on go the OB gloves, betadine and OB lube and in I go. The first thing I notice is a ring of extra tissue in the birth canal. I imagine that this might be scar tissue from her operation last year. It is extremely rigid and inflexible. I think, "there is no way she can dilate properly." So, I try the usual tricks of massaging and tugging the kid to no avail. We decide to call our trusted vet to get some advice. She suggests letting Pattie keep pushing and trying to stretch this scar tissue. So, we let her try a bit longer and I go back in to stretch the tissue. All of a sudden, I feel the birth canal expanding and I am able to pull out the kid's head. Out slithers the rest of his seemingly skinny body. It's a healthy boy. We clean him up, milk out Pattie and then she drops back down to the ground to deliver the second kid. This time, we're not so lucky. It's a 3 lb buck kid that takes a breath and then dies. He is much too small to be viable. This happens sometimes. The happy ending of the story is that a doe who we weren't sure would ever be able to get pregnant again and be a productive part of our herd, is now on the milk line with the other does. We have one very cute little buckling to show for her efforts.
We decided to try a few experimental cheeses with our sheep milk last week and this week as we wait out the rogue wild blue molds on our Ewe Bloom and Krotovina. Last week, we made a batch of sheep milk feta (it is aging in brine right now, so stay tuned) and this week we decided to make sheep milk ricotta. So, for those ricotta fans out there who keep asking us to make ricotta more often, your wish has been our command. We're pleased with the results-delicate and delicious--excellent drizzled with some local honey and fresh fruit. We will sell it in the same way we sell the goat milk ricotta--1/3 to 1/2 pound portions.
We are attending four farmers' markets this Saturday: Urbana, Bloomington, Green City Market and Oak Park. The weather forecast sounds good (morning at least) so come on out and shop for some fantastically fresh local foods to accompany the cheeses you'll buy. Here's what we plan to have for you:
Fresh chevre--we made extra batches this week, so we should have plenty--the usual suspects--plain, herbes de Provence and cracked black peppercorn
Angel Food--nice and gooey brie-like--limited quantity, so arrive early if this is your favorite cheese
Little Bloom on the Prairie--continues to have a nice clean milk flavor--goes great with all those local fruit jams you're probably making right now.
Ewe Bloom--beautiful yellow core surrounded by those white, blue and green molds on the rind. It is quite yummy and I have been suggesting to our customers that you try it on a burger--veggie or meat.
Krotovina-the creamy flavor of both goat and sheep milk separated by vegetable ash--delicious!
Roxanne-our raw goat milk brebis style, still reflects early lactation milk but now has notes of pasture in it.
Red Dawn--the soft ripened goat milk disc dusted with smoked paprika--we have VERY limited quantities of these, so again, come early.
HAPPY SUMMER EATING!
We have been growing an experiment this spring--a forage sorghum-sudan grass pasture mixed with a tall-growing legume called "berseem clover." Both grow really fast and tall in warm weather. Since goats like to eat high--they are browsers after all, not true grazers--we have been eagerly awaiting the day we could turn them loose on this new pasture. This week, we let the girls in. The sound of 80 goats intently focused on chewing in unison brought a glow to my heart. Their heads were buried in their food, and I swear I could hear their lips smacking. I was mezmerized by the sounds of them eating with such gusto; I almost wished I were a ruminant myself.
All of that great forage makes its way into their milk and in turn in, into the flavors of our cheeses. The flipside is that the current heat makes their appetites evaporate, and that, in turn, leads to less milk production. Our cheese vats aren't overflowing with milk like they were just a few short weeks ago. The "problem" of too much milk in early spring has transformed into the "problem" of not enough milk for cheese. While this happens every year with the onset of hot weather, I always lament the transformation and wish we could have shade follow them where ever they go in the pasture to keep them cool and hungry.
As a result of the dip in milk production, we don't have as much Chevre available for you this week at the farmers' markets. However, we have lots of Little Bloom on the Prairie and Ewe Bloom. Buy lots now because these cheeses will become scarce too in a few weeks. We also have the debut of this year's Moonglo, our raw goat milk tomme-style cheese. It is quite rich, buttery and delicious-what you would expect from early lactation milk cheese. We also have Roxanne, also quite creamy and tasty. Expect a few other cheeses including Prairie Dropseed and Black Sheep in very limited quanities. If Angel Food is ripe, we'll probably bring some of these gooey goat rounds as well.
Tomorrow morning, we'll be picking berries before the heat sets in. I hope to have raspberries and currants to bring to at least one of the markets on Saturday. I forgot to mention, we'll be attending three farmers' markets this Saturday: Urbana, Green City Market and Oak Park. Summer is looming on the horizon--Stay cool and be cool--eat lots of cheese on those salads.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, for those of you coming to the farm dinner this Saturday, “This little piggy…” expect hot weather and dress accordingly. Unless it is raining, we will be dining outside. The menu looks marvelously porcine. On another note, we have a few seats now available for the "Backyard Barbeque" Dinner on July 3rd. They are posted on our website under "Dinners on the Farm," then "Dinner Descriptions and Make Reservations." First come, first served.
Go to "Dinners on the Farm" then click on "Dinner Descriptions and make reservations" then click on the the "This little piggy dinner" for more detail and scroll down the page to view the menu.
For those of you fortunate to be attending this dinner, it should be a hog wild affair!
I was thinking about the word "ripen" today. We always refer to fruits as ripe when they are at their peak flavor and ready to eat. Those of us in the cheese world, also use the term "ripen" to describe the process of aging cheeses to the point that they are ready to eat. Affinage is the french term for the process of cheese ripening. Inherent in the term is the notion that something is acting on the cheese or the fruit to cause it to change its flavor, texture, etc. In both cases, it is a biologically mediated process (those microbes at it again) that coaxes along the digestion of some compounds and the production of others (sugars in the case of fruits, fatty acids and other flavor compounds in the case of cheese). In both cases too, ripening is a fairly subjective term that lets the eater (and in our case, the producer-eater) determine when the flavor of the food is at its peak. Ripe cheeses and ripe fruits--the joy of eating locally is that you actually get to purchase these foods when their delicousness is at its apex.
It seems like June is the month for ripening. We have had a plethora of soft-ripened (or bloomy rind) cheeses peak this week along with raspberries, currants and maybe even some gooseberries.
We'll be bringing lots of cheese to FOUR farmers' markets this week-Urbana, Bloomington, Green City Market in Lincoln Park, Chicago and of course Oak Park Farmers' Market-- so come visit us and buy some cheese. We might bring berries to a couple of the markets if we have extra. We're bringing the following cheeses:
Chevre--plain, herbs de Provence and cracked peppercorn--come early to get the full selection
Angel Food-goat milk brie--epitomizes "ripeness"
Little Bloom on the Prairie--goat milk camembert-tasting really great this time of year-must be the pasture coming through in the goats' milk
Ewe Bloom-sheep milk bloomy rind-still on sale this week, because, you guessed it, several batches decided to ripen at the same time.
Prairie Dropseed-our blended milk (sheep and goat) little ball with a geo mold rind--someone told me it reminds them of brain coral (it does!)
A new little bloomy rind we're calling "Pear Capri" it is less than 2 oz of white and blue mold coated goat mik creaminess in the shape of a petite poire (little pear in french). We're making this special cheese for Stephanie Izard's new restaurant ("Girl and the Goat" slated to open the third week in June) and she came down to make an experimental batch with me a couple of weeks ago. You get to have a sneak preview of this little gem.
Roxanne will reappear in the lineup next week; maybe even Moonglo. Stay tuned and stay ripe.
Lots of cheese this week too:
Whole goat's milk ricotta is finally here! It's sweet, delicate and delicious
Chevre, of course--stuff those strawberries with some chevre and fresh herbs! Yum.
Limited supply of Angel Food
Little Bloom on the Prairie
Roxanne--nice semi-hard texture
This week, we're running a sale on Ewe Bloom, the "blue" duckling that tastes like a swan. It is $5/lb per pound less than the regular price. As I wrote last week, look past the blue rind and experience the buttery interior, and you'll be hooked on this cheese.
Take advantage of our abundance this week. We'll be attending the Urbana, Green City Market and Oak Park Farmers' Market. Happy Local Food eating!
We look forward to seeing you soon.
Fresh chevre (plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper)
Angel Food --nice and gooey
Ewe Bloom--tastes great right now!
Limited amount of Roxanne-raw sheep milk brebis style
Mollisol Pecorino-our raw sheep milk Pecorino Romano style--sharp, slightly salty--great for grating over some roasted veggies or a beet salad.
A little insight about farmstead cheese and seasonality: milk and cheese are affected by the weather and the environment. Take our Ewe Bloom, for example. We are having an explosion of wild blue mold on these cheeses right now. It turns out that sheep on pasture produce milk that is friendly to the growth of this wild blue mold. It also turns out that when farmers' plow their fields and plant their crops this time of year, that lots of blue mold spores are cast into the air and make their way into our cheeserie. This mold is natural, it is not harmful to people, it has a mild and slightly earthy, almost non-detectable taste, yet its appearance is jarring to the human eye. Most people think that blue mold on cheese means it's spoiled. I assure you we wouldn't bring these cheeses to market if they were spoiled. I encourage you to not judge this cheese by the color of it's "skin." Rather, close your eyes and take a taste. If then you're not convinced, you can pass it by.
As spring fades into summer, I encourage you to be adventurous--eat some moldy cheese today!
Happy Local Food Eating!
The "Freedom Ranger" chicks arrive
The guinea "keets" are here too
This is a week of several season "firsts." Our "Freedom Ranger" day-old broiler chicks arrived at the Post Office this morning along with our guinea keets (this is what guinea fowl babies are called). The Freedom Rangers chickens were developed in France under the name of "Label Rouge" and are designed for pasture raising. They have sturdy legs and love to eat grass and forage for insects. We are very excited to try them. Our guineas will be featured in the 100 yard dinner later this season. We learned a lot about how to raise them last year (how to keep predators away from them and prevent them from escaping in general), so we hope to have plenty to serve to our guests come October.
We harvested our first respectable crop of strawberries, and they are mighty tasty (not enough to sell yet, but for those of you coming to the first farm dinner, you'll get to experience them). We picked our first bunches of spring greens--kale, collards, baby swiss chard, beet greens. We will host our first farm dinner of the season on Saturday. If you haven't seen the menu, go to our website, click on "Dinners on the Farm," then "Dinner Descriptions and Make Reservations." Then, click on the "Spring Hopes Eternal" dinner and scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the menu. For those of you signed up to attend this dinner, the weather is forecast to be in the low '80's and sunny. We will be dining outside, so dress accordingly. It should be a spectacular evening.
We start selling our cheeses at the Oak Park Farmers' Market this Saturday, bringing our market total to three (Urbana, Green City Market and Oak Park). Next Saturday, we'll add Bloomington to the farmers' market repertoire. Our first raw milk cheese of the season is ready to eat--Roxanne, our raw sheep milk brebis style cheese wil make it's 2010 debut at the farmers' markets. It's firm and creamy with a hint of nuttiness. Great for a grilled cheese sandwich or just slice a piece and eat it unadulterated.
We will also have the following cheeses at the markets this Saturday:
Fresh chevre-the usual flavors
Angel Food--goat milk brie
Little Bloom on the Prairie-goat milk camembert style
Ewe Bloom--the little triangles of sheep milk gooeyness
Krotovina-the pyramid of the best of both milks
Roxanne--raw sheep milk brebis
The tentative menu is now on our website (www.prairiefruits.com) for the May 22nd Farm Dinner. You can find it under "Dinners on the Farm," then "Dinner Descriptions and Make Reservations," then click on the May 22nd "Spring Hopes Eternal" dinner.
For those of you who will be coming to this dinner, please take a look so you can choose your wines or other beverages accordingly. For everyone else, feel free to take a look and imagine the deliciousness.
Stay tuned for future menus as the dinner dates approach.