Located near Champagn, in southern Illinois, Prairie Fruits Farm is owned by Leslie Cooperband and Wes Jarrell, who bought it in 2005 with a view to operate a mixed use, small-scale fruit farm and goat dairy.
With careers as professors within the Wisconsin and Illinois university systems, (Wes as head of Agricultural Science, and Leslie with a strong background in soil science and management) both bring a great deal of experience to farming life. Wes generally takes care of the goats and does the milking, while Leslie oversees the cheesemaking, with help from Alisa, who is Assistant Cheesemaker.
The herd of Nubian and La Mancha milking goats currently numbers about 60 within a closed herd system. The milk is of extremely good quality and yields exceptionally high solids.
Leslie produces several different varieties of cheese, ranging from a fresh chèvre through to a raw milk blue. Most of her sales take place at Farmers' Markets or go to select retail stores, where invariably demand exceeds supply.
The most recent development is that Prairie Fruits Farm is buying a limited quantity of sheep's milk from a local Amish dairy farmer. To that end, Leslie has started experimenting with several sheep's milk cheeses that compliment the existing range of goat's milk cheese.
Ewe Bloom is one of Leslie's newest creations and is made from sheep's milk in a small square. During production, the curds are handled gently to and retain as much moisture as possible, and are allowed to drain naturally in their molds.
After unmolding, cheeses are flipped three times, every ninety minutes and left to drain further overnight. The following morning they're salted to help draw out the moisture from the cheese and aid in the development of the rind.
Ewe Bloom undergoes several transformations during its maturation. At about ten days old, the rind has begun to develop and is white and bloomy in appearance, encasing a fairly firm, chalky paste inside. At three weeks, the rind is colonized by some natural, wild molds and has taken on a mottled appearance, with patches of grey and white. The interior of the cheese at this point has started to soften and break down, becoming slightly runny under the rind.
However, at four weeks of age the rind takes on the appearance of a sqaure of stone with molds of grey, green and brown. The interior paste becomes almost translucent and liquid, providing a texture and flavor similar to ice cream. As a finishing touch, Leslie finishes the cheeses with a few leaves of parsley, lavender and sage that are grown at Prairie Fruits Farm.
Flavors are delicate and aromatic, with the sweetness of the sheep's milk pleasantly balanced by salt.