Located near Champaign, in southern Illinois, Prairie Fruits Farm is owned by Leslie Cooperband and Wes Jarrell, who purchased 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.
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. 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.
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.
Made from the milk of the Prairie Fruits Farm goats, Red Dawn is a mold ripened cheese named after the striking red sunrises that occur on over the prairie where the farm is located.
Cheeses are made by gently hand-ladling the curd to help preserve moisture. During the cheesemaking process, geotrichum cultures are added to the milk and at one week of age, the rind is dusted with a Spanish smoked paprika. The white of the geotrichum mold gently grows over the paprika, giving the rind an appealing blend of colors.
Cheeses are released for sale at about three weeks of age. At this point, the interior texture is semi-soft and supple and bone white in color.