The Not-So-Lonesome Prairie: Goats!

Oh, Capricorn

WhiteGoatWithBrown

Perhaps when you think of “goat”, you think of Capricorn, the zodiac sign (Caprinae are the class of animal that includes goats and sheep). Not me. When I hear the word “goat”, I think of cheese, delicious goat cheese. And because of that, and my interest in the culinary geography of the Midwest and Plains, I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, a goat creamery just outside of Champaign, Illinois (home of the University of Illinois’ main campus).

About Goat Cheese

Goat milk and goat dairy is preferred in some parts of the world. And that includes goat cheeses, which are typically piquant. Many people are familiar with fresh chèvre, the spreadable goat cheese that vaguely resembles cream cheese. Chèvre is creamy, tangy, sprightly, a delightful minuet on the tongue. But goat milk is employed in many other kinds of cheeses. Bûcheron, for example, is a semi-aged cheese, with an edible white bloomy rind covering a firmer ivory layer which in turn encases a softer white, lemony cheese that is spreadable. There are even firm aged goat cheeses.

Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery

On a pitch-perfect summer morning, with clichéd cloud-free sky and low humidities, I navigated the detours on N Lincoln Ave to make my way to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery. I arrived at the farm, only to find a “Closed” sign. Well, this was not good. After all, I’d not only messaged them on Facebook to make sure they’d be open, I actually spent the previous night in Champaign to be able to visit them the next day. Undeterred, I drove in and parked my car. The creamery door was closed, but not locked, so I just walked in. And it was devoid of people. I snooped around a bit and finally saw a young woman with an infectious smile on the other side of the glass, working with cheese. She came over to help me. I explained that I was assured they’d be open. The young woman, Lynn (see photo below), was one of the cheesemakers and she, in turn, assured ME that they were certainly open. That they’d sell me some cheese and that I could wander around the farm. Fridays, she said, were less formal. So, we commenced with the tasting (and in my case, the buying!)

Lynn

My Cheese Haul

I tasted a number of wonderful goat cheeses. And I BOUGHT a number of wonderful goat cheeses—Little Bloom on the Prairie (a bloomy rind cheese—think Camembert); Angel Food (another bloomy rind goat cheese—in small rounds); Moonglo, a firm, aged cheese which has a washed rind (a brine is used to bathe the cheese); goat feta (deliciously creamy and tangy); and fresh chévre (which I’ve been enjoying by the spoonful!). Prairie Fruits also makes a raw milk goat cheese call Huckleberry Blue, which is a seasonal product. I didn’t get any because it wasn’t the season!

CheeseHaul

And Now for Something Completely Different: Goat Gelato!

Yes, you read that right. Prairie Fruits makes goat GELATO. As in the frozen dessert. Okay, it was brunch time and I hadn’t eaten (mostly in anticipation of this!), so I was all set to eat some gelato. There were about ten flavors available and I choose individual servings of Espresso and Peaches and Cream. Both were delicious, but the Espresso was especially exquisite! I sat down on one of the farm’s picnic tables to have my late breakfast. I would encourage anyone to swap out their oatmeal or bagel for some goat gelato to start the day!

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Wandering the Grounds

Both Lynn (the cheesemaker) and her colleague Sarah suggested that I wander around the farm. They told me to go visit the barns and see the milking does and the young kids (actually, teenagers by now). So I did (and I am sharing a few photos with you). I got a chance to see the pen where the retired does were frolicking as well. The goats’ eyes were soft, yet animated.

Goat2_RS

A Chat with Wes Jarrell

Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery is owned by the husband-and-wife duo of Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperbrand, former academics (see, friends, there IS life after academe! Rich life, too!) While I was enjoying my gelato, Wes came over, sat down, and chatted with me for a bit. That’s how I found out he had been a professor (even a department head at University of Wisconsin-Madison, I believe). We talked about the farm, about people not understanding (or paying for) the true value of food (remember that a lot of what you eat is subsidized and benefits big corporations). He told me about the gelato (how they had someone go to Europe to study gelato-making); the gelato, I found out, was a pretty new product for them. We talked about agricultural sustainability and organic farming (and they are NOT necessarily synonymous!) Mr. Jarrell was very, very generous with his time. He also shared with me that Prairie Fruits supplies the restaurants of Rick Bayless, the noted chef with some stellar restaurants in Chicago. With this kind of background, I knew I’d be enjoying those cheese very much upon my return to Muncie; it took a fair amount of willpower not to pull the car off the interstate and dig into my purchases.

Will I Be Back? In a Word, YES!

I should have bought more cheese. I know I’ll run out soon. That makes this Flyover Tapan sad. BUT, I will be back, maybe with some friends of mine! People, if you are at all interested in local and regional products and you love food, you owe it to yourself to visit Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery.

Little Bloom on the Prairie
A runny Little Bloom on the Prairie
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A Rare Non-Food Related Post: Prairie Lights and Independent Bookstores

I suppose that I can make a tenuous connection between the subject of today’s post and the theme of this blog, that connection being that Prairie Lights bookstore sells cookbooks and has a café on the second floor. It’s a thin, gossamer thread, I know, but I really want to write about both this bookstore in particular and independent bookstores in general.

PrairieLightsFront

Those who know me (and now, those who don’t) have heard me rail about the alleged demise of reading anything long-form, as well as the Amazonification of the American—and, increasingly, global—retail experience. Between a populace that can’t seem to read anything longer than a Facebook status update or a tweet, along with our “get it cheap, cheap, cheap, all other costs be damned” mentality, I fear that the future will be nothing more than a contemporary Bread and Circuses, in this case the bread and circuses being Chinese-made electronics at rock-bottom prices and following the Kardashian sisters. This is why I support independent bookstores, especially general purpose ones.

I live in East Central Indiana, a reasonably close drive from Indianapolis. Indiana has a dearth of such havens, even (especially?) in Indy (the CAPITAL, for chrissakes). Barnes and Nobles, plus some niche and/or used bookstores, yes, but where is the general bookstore, the one where a customer can wander in and serendipitously encounter a new author? I am well aware that one can do this at Barnes and Noble—given the paucity of other bookstores, I choose to visit them regularly—but it feels much more corporate and sterile. I yearn for a place that not only fills me with joy, but is also a part of the local community.

I lived in Iowa City for a year about a decade ago. While finishing up a Ph.D., I took a one-year contract faculty position at the University of Iowa. It got me out of Delaware. Once in Iowa City, I discovered Prairie Lights.

Where I taught my first class during my Iowa Year.
Where I taught my first class during my Iowa Year.

Prairie Lights is a welcoming haven, complete with a knowledgeable staff and an excellently varied selection of books. A café on the second floor (with Stumptown Coffee) serves one’s coffee/tea/pastry needs, as well as offering patrons beer and wine.

Latte

Regular readings by authors are part of what Prairie Lights presents. This place was one of my favorite haunts when I lived here. And I always make sure to visit it when I come back for a visit.

Be subversive. Read a book. And buy it from a local, independent place, if possible.

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