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independent cheese makers: an endangered species

Farm News

As our cheese making team gets ready to head off to the American Cheese Society's annual conference in Buffalo, NY, I reflect on the state of artisan cheese making in the U.S. Twenty years ago, when we were just getting started with our little goat farmstead creamery on the prairie, there was a renaissance of small-scale American artisan and farmstead cheese making. Creative and entrepreneurial folks around the country, some with dairy backgrounds, many with no prior cheese making experience, took the plunge into dairying and cheese making. The breadth and creativity of the cheeses coming out of these new creameries were astonishing; cheeses made from cow, goat, sheep and water buffalo, many with nods to their European inspirations, but most with a distinctly American twist. Cheese regionalism, a concept once considered exclusive to Europe, blossomed across the U.S., even in areas like ours considered "dairy deserts." In historical dairy states like Vermont, Wisconsin and California, independent cheese makers were putting their cheeses on the map, taking home awards both national and international. These cheese makers revived rural communities that had become moribund by the ravages of industrial agriculture. They awakened the taste buds of urban eaters who had assumed that "American cheese" was a yellow "cheese product" encased in a plastic sleeve.

We were among the "pod" of "dairy dolphins" riding this wave, albeit as second career reformed academics. We started our dream farm with three Nubian does and a breeding buck, knowing absolutely nothing about goat husbandry or cheese making. Along our farmstead creamery's 20 year trajectory, we grew our milking herd, we stayed true to our principles of pasture-based dairying and high animal welfare and we took home several national awards for our cheeses. The American artisan cheese making community swelled and retracted, many amazing small-scale producers folding under the financial burdens typical of such pursuits. Recently, as founders of these independent creameries have retired, several have sold their operations to large international dairy corporations. We were fortunate to find local business entrepreneurs adventurous enough to shepherd our farmstead creamery into a bright independent future. Yet, the sea of independent, American artisan cheese makers is shrinking, especially those who milk their own animals (farmstead). As we celebrate our nation's independence from tyranny, let's celebrate the independent spirit of our independent cheese makers. Vive le fromage!

The garden planting and grounds beautification around the farm is ongoing. We now have a lovely lawn adjacent to the pavilion on which guests can hang out and play games. There's a nice breeze under the shade of the pavilion OR you can enjoy the farm's fare in our air-conditioned dining room/café "Caprae." Our small bites and bar snacks menus are happening, and folks are beginning to discover the amazing food that our chefs are crafting. Sunday brunch specials change weekly-the word on the "street" is that we have the best brunch in town! Read about all the happenings below and come visit us!

Happenings at the Farm & Beyond

We are attending BOTH the "Urbana's Market at the Square" AND "Downtown Bloomington Market." The Urbana Market runs 7 AM to 12 noon and the Bloomington Farmers' Market runs 7:30 AM to 12 noon. Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery is in the same location in Urbana as last year (the south end of the market in line with aisle two) but with an expanded footprint (and more offerings). We are sharing space with Central Illinois Bakehouse at the Bloomington Market. Here are this week's offerings:

Moonglo: Our raw goat milk "tomme" style semi-hard cheese is hitting the "streets" this weekend, just in time for July 4th holiday celebrations and summer outdoor eating. The wheels of this cheese are washed with a culture-brine containing pear leaf tea (steeped "Moonglow" pear leaves from our orchard) and Illinois pear wine. The result: a supple, meltable cheese with notes of fruit and nuts--perfect for serving alongside your favorite hard salami or fresh peach wedges

Pelota Roja: our Spanish-style raw goat milk hard cheese is BACK!! --sharp, nutty, spicy--shave it, grate it, slice it and bask in its deliciousness

Mixed-milk feta in whey brine ! Tangy, creamy yet crumbly--just as you remember it!! Crumble it on everything, summer greens salads and whatever is good for grilling!

Chevre frais: plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper and everything bagel seasoning--so fresh and lemony, it screams spring is here!!

Seasonal chevre: jalapeno crunch--fresh jalapeno peppers from Ochoa farm, chopped and blended into our fresh chevre--lovely pepper flavor, albeit mild, with a satisfying crunch--perfect for stuffing into jalapenos for "poppers." LIMITED OFFERING

Ukrainian Farmers' Cheese: our all-jersey cow milk fresh cheese--the flavor is mild with a slight tang; the texture and mouthfeel are similar to both ricotta and small-curd cottage cheese--eat with fresh berries and honey or use in place of ricotta or cottage in your favorite recipes

Gournay: our fresh cow milk cheese that is similar to chevre or mascarpone--plain, garlic & herb and spiced cranberry

Goat milk yogurt!!! Both pints and quarts available this week! Buy your yogurt and then pop over to CIB's stand to grab some of there house-made granola!! LIMITED

Angel Food: mixed milk petite brie--starting to get a little gooey around the edges--try it sliced over butter-sautéed green beans and mushrooms!

"Archangel:" our all-goat milk mini-brie style cheese-fudgy and toothsome, perfect for slicing and serving on a picnic cheese board; Urbana Market Special: large-format, half wheels

Little bloom on the prairie: our mixed milk camembert style beauty-grill a round and serve with grilled peaches-super young this week (Urbana will have a very limited number of perfectly ripe rounds)

Black goat: our all-goat milk ash-ripened bloomy; aging nicely-tart, earthy, gooey and delicious! Aging nicely this week, with the perfect amount of funk!

Fleur de la Prairie: our all-goat milk bloomy adorned with dried edible flowers and herbs--ACS gold medal in 2022! Aging beautifully--serve with slices of early season peach!!

BAKED GOODS ADD ONS: Come to our market stand to grab some cheese, but add on a sweet or savory baked good to go with it!

Our weekly CSA share offers you unique pairings with ultimate flexibility. Every week, you'll get cheese, bread and house-made accompaniments. We will have these for sale at both the Urbana and Bloomington farmers' markets, but please sign up for shares. This week's share is a quintessential summer breakfast kit

  • 6 oz. "everything bagel" seasoned chevre

  • three-pack of plain CIB bagels

  • pint of goat milk yogurt

  • small container of house-made jam

Farm Open Hours

The farm is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC! We are excited to welcome visitors to see all the changes, visit with the goats, check out the amazing locally-sourced food our chefs are crafting and take in fun activities like goat pilates/yoga and goat hikes. We welcome visitors during the following hours:

  • Tuesdays: Happy Hour! 5-7. Goat Yoga (Pilates) available. Buy tickets online in advance or at the farm before class starts. Bar will be open along with small bites and bar snacks.

  • Wednesdays: Closed to the public. Farm to Table dinner night, reservations and tickets required (see themes and link to reservations below). 

  • Thursdays 11-9. Lunch and dinner counter service available from our newly remodeled restaurant, "Caprae." Find a seat inside or enjoy open seating around the farm. Order at your table or at the bar and pick up inside. Menu items feature local produce and proteins and will change seasonally. Accessible, upscale modern-American farm-to-table dining. Salads, sandwiches, cheese plates and small bites. 

  • Fridays. 11-9. Same as Thursdays

  • Saturdays 9-9. Farm opens earlier on the weekend. Coffee and pastries available 9-11. Same service 11-9.

  • Sundays 9-4. Coffee and pastries 9-11. Seasonal brunch menu available. Lunch service (same menu) 11-4. 

  • CLOSED MONDAYS. Please respect our staff's needed time to complete farm work and only plan to visit us during open hours. 

TAKE A HIKE!! Reserve your spot for a hike with the goats! Now offering two time options:

Thursday Happy Hour Hike with The Goats-5 pm (includes a beverage at the end of the hike)

Saturday morning Hike-11 am (includes cheese and/or gelato sampling). NOTE: Weather permitting--if it is too hot or raining, we will have to cancel the hike for the safety of the goats (and the goat herder, Carol!!).

During all open hours guests can enjoy walking around the farm grounds on marked trails, visiting with the goats and enjoying a meal or beverage sitting under the pavilion or on the lawns. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions about the goats or cheese and to chat about the farm. Please no outside food and no pets. 

Thank you!

Please follow us on Facebook and/or Instagram and check your inboxes for future updates.

Goat Yoga-Pilates enjoy some movement & relaxation, featuring our adorable baby goats and certified Pilates instructor Lisa Staples of Living Legacy Pilates. Sign up now for this light-hearted workout.

BACK IN STOCK: GOAT MILK SOAPS HANDCRAFTED BY THE WRIGHT SOAPERY!! Made with our farm's goat milk and garden herbs, these beauties are available at the farm and at the Bloomington Farmers' Market farm stand.

Farm to Table Dinners: Chefs Garron and Cody are offering pre-fixe multi-course meals featuring locally grown foods and our cheeses, of course. Dinner tickets include non-alcoholic beverages, taxes and gratuity. Wine, beer and cocktails are available for purchase at the farm, or you can pre-purchase a beverage add-on to your meal that includes a welcome cocktail and two full pours of paired wines with dinner. Tickets are selling fast! Go on our website NOW to make reservations. Check out the special Saturday July 20th Beer Pairings Dinner featuring locally crafted beers from Triptych Brewery.

Themes for July

July 10th 

Basque Regional Cuisine Embark on a culinary journey to the Spanish Basque Country, known for its rich culinary traditions.

July 17th 

Farmers Market Basket Savor the bounty of the season with a vegetarian feast featuring the freshest produce from our farm and local farmers markets.

July 24th 

East Coast Seafood and Wine Dinner Indulge in a 5-course Atlantic pescatarian meal paired with exquisite wines. Tickets for this special event are $150.00 and include the wine pairings. A representative from Winebow, our wine distributor, will be at the farm to talk about the wines!

July 31st

Yucatan Regional Cuisine Explore the vibrant flavors of the Yucatan Peninsula, known for its unique blend of Mayan and Spanish influences.


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