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Celebrating the Art of Cheesemaking… by Maureen McHugh

If you are a true foodie, then you know the thrill of food is not just eating it but learning where it came from and how it arrived on your plate.  If you work with cheese everyday you get the pleasure of hearing the stories of cheese production. But the real thrill is to meet the cheesemakers, hear their stories first hand and, if you’re really lucky, spend a day with them.

Last November, Daniel, Jack & I had just that experience.  In celebration of our first successful year together at Marche, we decided to visit one of our favorite producers of local goat cheese.  What could be better than a day at a goat farm making cheese!

Early one Sunday morning off we went to Champaign, Il to visit Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband, the proud owners of Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. In 2003, they moved from an urban and academic life in Madison, Wisconsin to rural Champaign-Urbana Illinois. That first season, they began to transform their land from cash grain agriculture to perennial production with a lush cover crop of buckwheat. In 2004, they planted over 350 fruit trees and 600 berry plants and purchased their first four Nubian goats (three does and one buck).

By 2005, they were licensed as a Grade A goat dairy and farmstead creamery and now have 70 plus milkers. Using the milk from their pastured herd of Nubian and La Mancha goats, they produce mostly French inspired cheeses.  Their farm embodies core principles of sustainability including environmental stewardship, economic viability and social responsibility.

The first thing that draws you upon arrival is of course those adorable goats. We instantly made friends with this lively herd as they were more than happy to be petted and scratched. Jack was already thinking how he could take one back to Glen Ellyn.

Then the work started. For the next 7 hours we would first ladle fresh chèvre, and then cut and ladle curd while making goat feta and, of course, clean and sanitize in between.  What did we learn? What I think we already knew, cheesemakers work hard creating beautiful products. It highlighted the true essence of slow food, the amount of physical labor that goes into creating the artisan’s vision and the high standards of quality that they won’t compromise.

Over a hearty lunch we got to sample their delicious cheeses and fresh gelato and of course, hear their stories.

We are fortunate to have a farmstead creamery so close to Glen Ellyn, and even more fortunate that Leslie Cooperband has agreed to come out to Glen Ellyn and spend the day with us at Marche.

On Sunday, June 11th, Leslie will be in the shop from 2:30 – 4:00 pm sharing her fresh goat cheeses. Come by and Meet the Cheesemaker, you won’t be disappointed.