Prairie Fruits Farm first caught our attention in early 2009, when it was rumored that its goat cheeses were served at a presidential inaugural dinner, and once we sampled the Illinois creamery’s Moonglo, we realized why. We loved the raw-milk tomme-style cheese, which Benjamin at France 44 ordered upon my special request, but since then no Prairie Fruits Farm cheeses passed our lips. That is, until last week, when I ordered a trio from Murray’s. Hey, once you pay for the shipping for one cheese, it just makes sense to order three.
Though best known for its goat cheeses – made from the milk of the La Mancha and Nubian goats that cheesemakers Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband raise on the farm – Prairie Fruits Farm also creates cheeses using the milk of Friesian-Lacaune sheep raised on an Amish farm about 45 minutes south of Champaign. And of the three cheeses I purchased, one of the sheepy specimens was my favorite. Black Sheep (pictured right) resembles a Selles-Sur-Cher in shape and appearance, but the sharply pleasing tang differed considerably from the clean goat’s-milk flavor I remembered about its French counterpart. Black Sheep is covered by a salt-ash mixture a day after ladling, which Jarrell and Cooperband say reduces the acidity and results in a mellower, creamier cheese. It certainly earned my two thumbs-up, and you’ll find me sneaking extra tastes of the Black Sheep more often than its sisters.
That’s not to say I found fault with the other two cheeses. Ewe Bloom (pictured left), another sheep’s-milk variety, blew me over with its full-bodied flavor that reminded me of a washed-rind but less funky cow’s-milk cheese. Patterned after an Italian Robiola, Ewe Bloom is aged for a brief period (about two weeks), which lends it that beefy punch, but still retains the delicate rind and runny paste of a young bloomy. While I’d suggest a sparkling wine for any of these cheeses, Murray’s suggests a fruity red to accompany Ewe Bloom. My solution: Buy a bottle of both and perform your own taste test.
Angel Food (pictured right), the only goat cheese I sampled this go-around, also featured the look of the yeasty overcoat of a washed-rind cheese, but perhaps that was because my wedge was on the older side of the spectrum. Compared to its sheepy sisters, it stood out for its frothy paste and oozy consistency. I have to admit I hoped for more of a tang upon first bite – perhaps because I was so enamored by Black Sheep, which I tasted first – but several samples later, I can appreciate Angel Food for what it’s meant to be: a sweet, young cheese for goat’s-milk lovers who prefer a pillow of paste.
Is there a family of cheeses you esteem? Share your favorites with us!