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Elevating the pedestrian: the making of cottage cheese

Farm News

Believed to have its origins in ancient Mesopotamia, cottage cheese as we know it today is a quintessentially American cheese. The new world version most likely took foothold in the small rural cottages where folks transformed naturally curdled milk from their family milk cow into soft cheese curds and then added milk or cream back to improve the flavor and consistency. Cottage cheese, like many farmstead cheeses and processed foods, underwent an industrial transformation in the 1950’s. I recall eating lots and lots of cottage cheese with canned fruit in my youth of the 1960’s. My mother’s go-to dinner recipe when she was frazzled was macaroni & cheese made with cottage cheese.

As I honed my craft as an artisan cheese maker, I never considered making cottage cheese. It seemed ubiquitous, bland and mundane. The first time I tasted a well-made cottage cheese with incredible organic milk was transformational. When we started receiving our own incredible organic Brown Swiss milk last year, I decided I needed to learn how to make a traditional artisan cottage cheese.

Creating a recipe and learning to make it well takes time and a lot of trial and error. We first had to find the right starter culture (the microbes who ferment lactic acid and produce lactic acid as a byproduct) that would acidify the milk slowly. After many trials, we finally found a starter that would acidify the milk overnight (like our chevre). This was a game changer from the workload perspective. There is a finicky “sweet spot” for the right acidity level (pH is our metric) to cut the curds. If you overshoot it, your curds will disintegrate as soon as you take a curd knife to them. When you reach your target pH, the cutting, stirring and heating processes begin.

The golden summer cow milk bears witness to the grass diet upon which the cows are dining. Just before cutting, the curd mass has a sheen of yellow fat on the surface. The stirring and heating process are gradual and literally hands on. I bend over the vat (after scrubbing my hands and arms with soap, akin to prepping for surgery) breast stroking my way through the warming curds and whey. Heating slowly is key to good curd formation. In the beginning, the fat congeals on the surface of the whey and coats my arms. I think about the potential for making money off of butterfat slathered spa treatments.

There is a lot of time to think while stirring and heating the cottage cheese curds and whey. At some point, the fat begins to melt and become one again with the curds. Once the temperature reaches 104 degrees F, the curds are strong enough to switch to stirring with a paddle for the final push to 115 degrees F. The whey is finally drained when the target temperature is reached. Then, there’s a sequence of washing the curds with cooling water to remove heat and any residual lactic acid. The cooled, drained curds are then salted and put into the refrigerator to firm up. After a while, we add back pasteurized whole milk to give the cheese its signature creamy curdy texture. This cheese is all about the quality of the milk and the patience of the cheese maker. It is often the seemingly simple cheeses that are challenging to master.

Happenings this Weekend at the Farm and Beyond


We have some unusual and amazing wines in our little farm store, and we want to show them off to you. This weekend’s flight features two crisp whites and a light red wine from different regions of the world. La Frontiere Sauvignon Blanc hails from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It is made in a natural style (low sulfur) from grapes grown using organic and biodynamic practices. With a strong mineral character and stone fruit and citrus notes, it will pair beautifully with our fresh chevre with herbs de Provence. Next up is an Austrian wine-Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz 2019. This complex, dry white contains many different regional grape varieties harvested at the same time. It’s citrusy, but also has herbal notes and hints of tropical fruits. We’re pairing this stunner with our little bloom on the prairie. We complete the flight with an amazing red wine from Sicily. Santa Tresa Rina Russa Fappato, an ancient Sicilian grape varietal. The wild berry notes and smooth finish will contrast nicely with our “dressed up” feta (olive oil drizzle and fresh herbs). We’ll serve with a rustic baguette bread from Publican Quality Breads in Chicago. $25/person (must be 21 or older) gets you this amazing flight—all weekend long!

No need to reserve; just ask for the flight when you come to the farm store.

Farm Open Hours

This weekend (and all weekends through the end of the year) we’re open 11-5 both Saturday and Sunday. Shop our farm store and sample some of our award-winning cheeses. The weather is looking fantastic for an outing to the farm-cooler and drier than it has been these past few days.

Enjoy a cheese and charcuterie board under our pavilion with a bottle of organic and/or biodynamic wine or local microbrew. Want something cool? Try our delicious goat milk gelato! Of course, there is lots of opportunity to engage with the goats—the mommas and the babies LOVE visitors. We will have an interactive pen set up for guests to enjoy their antics up close!

Specials this weekend: (available BOTH Saturday and Sunday):

--peachy yogurt smoothies-made with local peaches from Cary’s Garden of Eatin’ and honey from Grace’s Amazing Honey (available in our farm store!)

--special gelato flavors: TBD

The secret ingredient to our amazing cheeses and gelato is our MILK! You too can experience our milk in its purest form! Our milk super fresh (usually less than one day old) and clean. We are permitted to sell raw milk from the farm (Illinois Dept. of Public Health). Curious what it tastes like? We will have samples for you to try-just ask. You can even order goat milk through our online store and pick up your order during open hours.

RAW MILK SPECIAL THIS WEEKEND! BUY ONE (EITHER A QUART OR HALF GALLON), GET A SECOND ONE FOR 25% OFF!! If you’re worried about drinking all that milk in a week or so, have no fear, you can actually freeze it (if you plan to make cheese with it, I wouldn’t recommend freezing it; otherwise, it will be great to drink or make yogurt/kefir when thawed).

We’ve also got some great local products, including artisan jams, local honey, preserves and salamis. Check out the gorgeous eggs from fellow AWA (Animal Welfare Approved) certified eggs from Joyful Wren Farm. They are equally beautiful on the inside (bright orange means they are definitely eating grass) as well as the outside. I eat them every day!!

The farm is open on weekends RAIN OR SHINE! You can still visit with the baby goats inside their barn if it’s raining! We have ample seating inside our farm store if you want to stay and enjoy a cheese & charcuterie board. Our store is AIR-CONDITIONED!

Urbana’s Market at the Square

From 7-12 each Saturday, you can stock up on great produce, meats, eggs and of course PFFC cheeses. Shop the market this Saturday and snag some berries (blueberries, raspberries) AND PEACHES!!! Cherry tomatoes are starting to make their appearance too as well as beautiful radishes—cheese should definitely be on your list, and you can prepare simple dishes with what’s in season alongside our cheeses, especially our chevre and feta.


Here's the lineup of cheeses and dairy product you can expect to find in our farm store and at the farmers’ market:

  • Pelota Roja!!! Our raw goat’s milk “Spanish Style” cheese is back!! First batch of the season made with early spring milk. The flavor is sharp and nutty, the texture is firm, crumbly—perfect for shaving or grating. You can also just slice it and eat it with a big hunk of local salami and smear of local mustard. YUM YUM YUM!!

  • Fresh Chevre: plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper

  • Mixed milk feta in whey brine-salad season is upon us. Try crumbling feta over roasted beets and drizzle with a balsamic reduction! How about a feta-melon salad---the combination of salt-savory with sweet is irresistible!

  • Artisan Cottage Cheese: this is NOT your “grocery store” cottage cheese-rich, golden yellow and creamy-stuff some peppers and roast with melty cheese on top (like Pelota Roja!!) or make a pasta salad.

  • Little bloom on the prairie: Mixed milk camembert style- young this week

  • Angel Food: mixed milk mini-brie—super young this week, but perfect for enjoying with sliced tomatoes and fresh basil!

  • Black Goat: All goat ash-ripened bloomy rind; very young and mild this week 2021 NY International Cheese Competition Silver Medal Winner!

  • Fleur de la prairie: All goat bloomy rind with edible flowers and herbs-aging nicely 2021 Good Food Award Winner AND Culture Magazine’s Summer Issue Cheese Centerfold-limited availability this week

  • Goat milk Yogurt (quart size)

  • Raw goat milk (half gallons or quarts)-farm store only

We will send some of our goat milk yogurt-peach smoothies to the market this weekend. Keep an eye out for those.

Not local? No problem. You can order our cheeses and gift boxes from our online store.


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