Leslie Cooperband and Wes Jarrell didn’t move to Champaign, Illinois, to raise goats. Instead, the couple, both professors of agriculture, relocated from Madison, Wisconsin, in 2003 to take jobs at the University of Illinois. They planted buckwheat, and by the next year, more than 350 fruit trees and 600 berry plants, and began raising their first four Nubian goats. Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery was certified as a grade-A farmstead creamery in 2005 – the first in the state – meaning the couple makes cheese from their own herd of goats. This spring, Cooperband and Jarrell’s 12th season on the farm, they plan to milk about 75 Nubian, LaMancha and Nigerian Dwarf goats, which will produce 14,000 pounds of cheese.
Around 60 percent of the farm's cheese production this season will be fresh chèvre, which comes in original, cracked pepper, and herbes de Provence flavors. “[March] is the start of our season – the goats start having babies and we start making cheese again,” Cooperband says. “March is mostly about chèvre, but we also try to make several batches of Moonglo and Magia Negra, our raw-milk cheeses, to take advantage of the high milk solids in early lactation milk."
The first step is a low-temperature pasteurization; goat’s milk is pasteurized for 30 minutes at 145°F, which preserves the milk’s natural chemistry as much as possible. Next, starter culture and a little bit of rennet (which helps the milk solids coagulate) is added, and the milk ferments for 18 to 20 hours. The curd is then ladled into cheesecloth-lined baskets and drained overnight; the next day, it’s salted, “Then it’s cheese!” Cooperband says. The creamery makes several styles of goat cheese, including bloomy-rind; a Camembert-style; a raw goat-milk tomme; a raw-goat milk blue and a whole goat-milk ricotta. You can buy Prairie Fruits’ fresh chèvre at the farm in Champaign, the Urbana Farmers’ Market or through Fair Shares CCSA in St. Louis. Look for meals on the farm and tours later this year. (Photo by Jonathan Gayman)
Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, 4410 N Lincoln Ave., Champaign, Illinois, 217.643.2314, prairiefruits.com