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A lot of cheese is coming through Oak Park's Marion Street Cheese Market these days, and when I queried cheesemonger Eric Larson about his favorite of the bunch, he picked Prairie Fruits Farm Chevre Round. This fresh organic goat cheese is preternaturally fluffy. Leslie Cooperband, the cheese maker at Prairie Fruits Farm, hand-ladles the milk of Nubian and La Mancha goats into the forms, Eric explained, so as “not to disturb the curd.” The result is an airy cake, perfectly white, with slight citric acidity, bringing to mind lemon chiffon. There's hardly a hint of “goatiness,” which tends to turn off some folks, and the slight sourness perks up the taste buds, making this an excellent before-dinner bite. Decorated with lavender and peppercorns, dried marigold, or other wild herbs and flowers, the finished cheeses look beautiful--but they're also tasty, excellent for nibbling or sprinkling in salad. They seem so subtle, though, that’d you’d lose something if you cooked it into an omelet or pasta…but I'll let others be the judge of that.
To produce this chevre, Prairie Fruits follows a “natural milking cycle” with their animals. Goats rest over late fall and winter, then have baby kids and start producing milk in the spring. From this milk is made the fresh cheese. Cooperband sells only to Marion Street Cheese Market, Pastoral, and Fox & Obel. Recently, after Larson sent out an email announcing the cheese to his customers, he warned Cooperband that within three days she would probably get a call from a well-known cheese retailer in the area – the call came within 24 hours. Cooperband, however, decided she did not want her product sold on a mass scale. The farm can produce only so much high-quality cheese, and she feared that by selling her product in a corporate environment – where hundreds of pounds are cut and sold every day – she'd risk having it mishandled. This is a serious goat woman.
Marion Street is planning a bus trip to visit Cooperband and Prairie Fruits Farm on April 28. It’s a full-day trip, including a visit to a winery and a chance to help make cheese, all capped with a big dinner (with lots of cheese). For more info, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.