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 operating 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.
A recent development is that Prairie Fruits Farm is buying a limited quantity of sheep's milk from a local Amish dairy farmer. Leslie has therefoer started making several sheep's milk cheeses that compliment the existing range of goat's milk cheese.
Made from raw sheeps milk, one of Lesie’s newer creations is Kaskaskia, a cheese loosely style after Manchego, that gets its name from a river that runs through Arthur, Illinois, close to the Amish sheep dairy.
For production, after the milk has coagulated the curd is re-heated to a fairly high temperature to expel as much moisture as possible. The curd is drained and then pressed in cheesecloth for several hours. After pressing, the young wheels are transferred to an aging room where they are matured for approximately six months before realease.
Kaskaskia has a hard texture which is slightly crumbly and crystalline. The exterior is smooth and slightly waxy. Both the rind and interior paste are a golden beige brown color . Flavors are of walnuts, almond butter and caramel with a pleasant note of salt.