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What is cheese making, Farmers' Market Offerings, Farm Happenings

Posted 6/6/2019 9:40pm by Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell.

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Farm News

What is cheese making?

Cheese is a humble food, ubiquitous, so seemingly familiar.  The generic name “cheese” implies simplicity and similarity.  Yet, those who skip past the plastic-wrapped blocks and pre-shredded packages in the dairy case and venture to a well-curated cheese case, begin to imagine there is more to cheese than “cheese.” 

For those unschooled in the processes of fermentation, cheese making can seem like magic. Milk, a liquid, is transformed into a solid, cheese, somehow. There are so many styles, flavors, consistencies, rinds, no rinds—how does milk become so diverse in the form of cheese? As a cheese maker, I walk the tight rope of science and art, of respecting certain fundamentals and using my intuition to fill in the gaps. 

There are a few basic universal truths about cheese making: milk is a suspension of solids (fats, proteins, minerals) in a liquid medium (water), and cheese making upends the suspension, causing solids to aggregate and liquids to be expelled.  Most cheeses employ the services of microbes to separate solids from liquids; the microbes eat the milk sugar, lactose, and release lactic acid as a byproduct.  The build-up of lactic acid causes the milk to curdle—this is the beginning of solids sticking together to form the “curd.” 

Many cheeses seal the deal of coagulation with an enzyme called ‘rennet.’ The rennet is like a conductor, orchestrating specific molecules to line up to achieve a firm curd.  Once the curd is formed, the liquid or whey is released. Cheese makers of our scale (small, artisan) let the whey drain on the floor, knowing, sadly, that there must be a higher use for this product still loaded with nutrients and probiotics. 

Accepting these fundamentals, what are the processes that transform milk into so many styles of cheese? The styles are variations along the continuum of microbial and rennet-driven curd formation, the degree to which the cheese maker manipulates the curd (ladling, cutting, heating, washing, stretching), the additions or not of ripening cultures, the care of the rinds (washing, brushing, waxing) and the microclimates of the aging rooms (temperature and humidity. So many variables coupled with different types of milk (cow, goat, sheep, water buffalo….) and your head can begin to spin.  If you want to add even more complexity to the mix, add a seasonal milk supply or have the milking animals eating a varied diet over their lactation. 

Cheese making is a magic trick of sorts, borne of an accidental discovery that you could preserve milk by taking out the water.  Cheese makers use a variety of tools and tricks to attain the ideal versions of the cheese styles they love; some guard their recipes like teenage secrets; others let nature dictate the process.  All cheese makers become the humble servants of their microbial task masters, without whom milk would forever remain liquid.   

 Farmers’ Market Offerings Saturday, June 8th Market at the Square” 7 AM to 12 Noon.

The weather forecast is looking downright pleasant (low 80's for highs) farmers'market shopping. This week, we have a full house of bloomies-little bloom, angel food and black goat, although they are still "young." We were feeling a little ambitious this week, so we decided to make some fresh ricotta today. We'll have that available for sale at the market and the farm store. It (ricotta that is) is screaming to be paired with fresh strawberries and local honey OR stuff some squash blossoms if you can find them.

We still have several quart containers of our goat milk yogurt-simple, plain yogurt with a slight tang. No thickeners added. If you want a thicker yogurt, you can always strain it through cheese cloth to get more of “greek style” consistency. Here’s the cheese lineup for this weekend:

  • Fresh chevre: plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper
  • Angel Food-our little crottin style bloomy, it’s compact, firm in the center with a slightly gooey edge. This batch is young, bright and firm. As it ages, the mushroom notes from the rind take hold. Slice over a salad of fresh local greens or lightly bread it and bake it for a fancy cheese plate.
  • Little Bloom on the Prairie-a goat milk camembert-style bloomy, this batch is still young but headed in a very good direction.
  • Black Goat: our funky ash-dusted bloomy rind with a crinkly white-mold rind. This batch is young, so the paste is firm and fudgy in consistency. The yeastiness of the young rind is prominent in a bread-dough kind of way.
  • Moonglo-Enjoy a wedge of this complex, raw-milk beauty. Each wheel is washed with a cultured brine made with pear-leaf tea. It’s great with local charcuterie or try some shaved over a salad of greens and roasted asparagus. We are almost finished with our last wheels of this cheese, so grab some while it's still here. 
  • Goat Milk Yogurt-our very own goat milk yogurt—just milk and live cultures—no thickeners or sweeteners added. It’s great mixed with fresh berries, nuts and a drizzle of local honey or maple syrup (it’s my breakfast staple every morning)

Grab a pint of gelato (3 pint special is still a thing—buy 3, get $1/pint off): Here's the line up:

  • Vanilla
  • Maple walnut (with Funk’s Grove maple syrup)
  • Chocolate
  • Fresh Mint
  • Salted Caramel Swirl

How about topping off some gelato with our house-made cajeta (goat’s milk caramel sauce)?  We made a special version with chocolate this time. We’ll be bringing some jars to sell at the market on Saturday, and they’ll be available in our farm store too.

Can’t make it to the market on Saturday morning? No worries: the farm is open this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, 1-4 pm.

Starting mid June (date not determined yet), we will be open Thursdays and Fridays, 4-8 pm in addition to our regular weekend hours of 1-4 pm. You can still visit with the goats (kids and adults alike), stroll through the orchard and check out our herb and vegetable garden (finally planted).  

You can also enjoy a scoop of gelato OR cheese board with a glass of wine/beer or a black currant spritzer.  Need a little caffeine? We can make you a special espresso drink. We can even put a scoop of gelato for an “affogato. 

Check out the local products in our farm store:  

-eggs, meats and poultry from Bane Family Meats (Sidney)

-soaps from Red Barn Farm (including loofa soaps and liquid soap)

-Pancake mixes from Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains-think pancakes with jam and chevre!

-Animal Welfare Approved Bandanas

-Charcuterie from Piemonte Sausage Co.  (pancetta, pork loin filleto and capocollo) as well as their frozen sausages (need to be cooked)

-locally milled flours from Janie’s Mill AND MORE!

Other Farm Happenings   

Tickets to one of our farm dinners are a hot commodity. Check out themes and dates on our website and our ticket sales page (ShowClix), and make some reservations. We have some great additions this year:

  • Our July 20th BBQ dinner now has a New England "Surf and Turf" bent to it
  • Jake Chappell, Chef of Vincent in Chicago will be doing a Sunday afternoon lamb dinner with Catalpa Grove Farm Lamb--this chef is up and coming and super talented.
  • Eric Damidot, Chef of NoMi Kitchen (Park Hyatt, Chicago) will be doing a France meets Midwest themed meal
  • Chef Raquel Ritz is tackling a five course meal focused around all things milk (a version of our traditional "100 Yard Dinner")
  • The Great Pumpkin Patch is back this year for our very popular Pumpkin & Squashes themed dinner
  • Vicia Restaurant, St. Louis (Chef Michael Gallina) will venture north for a Sunday afternoon local food feast
  • and we’ll end the season with a Whole Hog-Triptych brewery holiday feast.

Behind the Scenes Tour & Tasting

Michael Darin, our special events coordinator extraordinaire, will be offering his "Behind the Scenes" tours next weekend: June 15th/16th at 2 and 3 pm each day.  For those of you celebrating father's day, why not surprise your dad by taking him to the farm for a tour/tasting, and then order a cheese board with your favorite adult beverages.

For the tours, guests will gather under the Prairie Pavilion to start the tour. Michael will give a brief history about the farm and some background about the owners Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband.  He will then guide guests around the farm and creamery where they will learn about raising goats, how the farm functions day-to-day, as well as how the creamery transforms our goat milk into delicious cheese and gelato. The tour will end with an interactive cheese tasting in the Real Stand Farm Store.   

Tours are conducted rain or shine, and last approximately 45-minutes. Please be prepared to walk around the farm; comfortable closed-toed shoes are advised. No reservations are required. Cost is $10 for adults, $6 for kids 12 and under. Glasses of wine or beer can be added to the tasting for a tour price of $6.   

Goat Walk Happy Hour

How about accompanying the goats out to pasture after their evening milking and then enjoying a glass of wine or beer or a special cocktail with some cheese? We will be hosting a very special happy hour like no other on Thursday, June 27th, 6-8 pm. Make your reservations here for this event (limited to 35 guests only),Tickets are almost sold out: $15/person includes one drink. Additional drinks and cheesy snacks will be available for additional purchase. 

Copyright 2019. Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, LLC. 2019. 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.