Prairie Fruits Angel Food: A Taste of Heaven on Earth (Day)

Robin Minkoff tells us why Prairie Fruits Farm makes the perfect cheese for Earth Day.

Back-to-the-landers Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband started Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign Urbana, Illinois in 2003, sowing buckwheat and modern farming ideals. To start, they planted hundreds of fruit trees and berry plants, and obtained three Nubian goat does and one buck.  Nine years later, they produce up to thirteen different cheeses, mostly from the milk of their goatherd.  The farm takes on many roles to achieve an admirable goal:  educate the local community about the connection between food production and consumption.  Cheeses like the young bloomy rind Angel Food are the delectable delivery system of their message. Organic growing practices ensure that the, ahem, fruits of their labors are tasty (Wordplay: rhymes with Earth Day!).

In keeping with the tenets of sustainability and small-scale, diversified farming systems, Jarrell and Cooperband run a pasture-based, seasonal dairy.  These farmers take the greatest care with their animals, using rotational grazing methods to keep them on fresh pasture during the growing season, and feeding them alfalfa hay and locally grown grain during the winter.  Chickens partner with the goatherd to manage pest control in the goat barn, helping to maintain sanitary conditions and healthy milkers.  Because of the careful attention to their animals’ health and quality of life, they are certified as Animal-Welfare Approved.

The orchard and berry patch are similarly cared for, deterring pests, weeds and disease through ecological and biological controls rather than conventional herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.  Flowering plants grow in the orchard to attract beneficial insects, especially honeybees.  As a testament to their sustainable agriculture vision, nothing goes to waste at Prairie Fruits Farm: food waste and manure gets turned into compost for the fields, and even excess whey produced during cheesemaking finds purpose as fertilizer and as livestock feed for other farms.  Like the cheeses, orchard and berry fruits are sold at local farmers’ markets.

One standout cheese, Angel Food, is a soft-ripened goat cheese made in the style of a French Coulommier.  Similar to a Camembert, this interpretation is aged two weeks.  Beneath the downy white rind lies a gooey creamline and a fluffy paste that melts into a silky, flowing mess of deliciousness as the cheese ages.   To make this sensational treat, the curds are hand-ladled into round molds.  A ripe wheel of Angel Food can substitute for the Brie you’re planning to serve at your next gathering.  But it’s spring – pack it in a picnic basket with a bubbly beverage and some fresh fruit as a part of your outdoor Earth Day celebrations.  Sarah, of Prairie Fruits Farm, recommends a Normandy Apple Cider to wash it down.  Bring it all together with berries like those you’d find growing near where the goats pasture. Prairie Fruits Farms’ intent is to help connect in their patrons’ minds food production and consumption; be at one with the pure terroir of Angel Food; free of unnatural elements and fresh from the prairie.  Angel Food, you make me feel like a natural woman.

Goat Cheese and Beer: Holler Bock at Me

by Kevin Brooks

Bock beers: Big, sweet, malty, rib-sticking beers that were originally made to wrap up the brewing season. The name comes from the town of their creation, Einbeck, which was eventually bastardized into bock, which is the German word for goat. So which cheese to pair with them…  Goat cheese, of course! Oh the puns we’ll do!

First I had to select my beers. I immediately reached for Troeg brewery’s Troegenator dopplebock: a big, sweet, strong (%8.5 abv!) dopplebock with intense dried fruit notes and a dangerous amount of drinkability. This is about as true to the style as you can get. Quick note: the suffix of –ator always denotes a dopplebock, which is a shout-out to the first dopplebock, Salvator, produced way back in 1773.

For the second, I went a little out there and selected one of Sam Adam’s new limited release offerings called The Vixen. It’s a bock beer brewed with cocoa nibs, with an added spiciness of cinnamon and chilies. Now having read all that, I wasn’t prepared for the flavor: Rich, roasty, but with more coffee in the body than chocolate. The chocolate only appears in the finish with the barest hint of spice. Where the Troegenator is a perfect example of the classic style, Vixen takes the basics and runs with it.

For my cheese, I knew that I had to go with some big flavors, as the heavy sweetness of a bock would clobber anything too mild. When pairing it’s always key to match intensities: strong with strong, mild with mild. The goal in all of this is to find two things that join up, work together, and become more than the sum of their parts. I selected an ooey, gooey Brunet, with its big goaty tang and assertive bite, as well as two washed-rinds: Consider Bardwell’s Manchester and Tomme de Chevre Aydius.

Some of the pairings were sublime, while others swayed into the inedible. Good news first! Troegenator with Brunet worked together fantastically. The intense, almost bitter cheese filled in as the hops for the beer, while the sweetness of the beer enveloped and mellowed out the cheese. They filled in each others gaps and emerged a delicious, complete beer/cheese hybrid of decadent yumminess.

The other big winner was a big surprise and is a bit of a challenge to put into words. The Vixen, with all of that roasty complexity, went so well with the Tomme de Chevre Aydius that we couldn’t stop eating it. I wish I had bought more! The two married so well, with deep bready, nutty notes emerging that weren’t evident in either the cheese or the beer on their own. Truly one of those sublime pairings where a completely new experience emerges, transcending its individual parts.

Now the bad news. Some of these pairings are definite no-gos. Brunet, which went so well with the sweet and intense Troegenator, turned almost noxious with the Vixen. “Like a shot of rancid liquor,” as my wife put it, waving her hand in front of her mouth as if to ward off the flavor. The roasty notes in the beer, which can sometimes take a bitter, molasses-esque tone, joined up with the bitter notes in the cheese to crush all joy out of the pairing. Avoid! But where did this leave the Manchester? Forgotten, too mild to stand up to either beer and getting utterly lost in the mix.

It can’t be said enough: When thinking pairings, make sure both parties can stand up to each other. When you match strengths, individual flavors won’t get lost. If you’re lucky they might even combine to create something delicious and unexpected – just one more reason to keep experimenting and tasting at home!

Kevin Brooks is a monger and merchandising specialist at Murray’s Cheese. He’s on an eternal quest for the “third flavor” and the “perfect burrito.”

Meet A Monger Monday: Robin Minkoff

Cheesemonger: World’s #1 Best, #2 Noblest Profession

Robin H. Minkoff

When I tell people I’m a cheesemonger, they either say, “That’s awesome!” or “Do you like that?”  People who say, “That’s awesome!” are totally correct.  Ok, sometimes it is stressful dealing with commuters who feel like you’re not slicing their prosciutto (paper-thin!  PAPER! THIN!) fast enough, because they have to catch a train.  But sharing my love of cheese with the masses is a lot of fun, and something I believe in.

Sometimes I tell people that if I weren’t a cheesemonger, I would probably be a doctor, because I think it’s really noble to heal people.  I’ll never be a doctor, though, because I can’t even listen to people talk about giving blood.  Please don’t say the phrase “donate plasma” around me.  Anyway, I think being a cheesemonger is a noble thing, too.  Cheesemaking is an ancient craft that connects us to the earth, to the animals who produce the milk, and to the people who craft that milk into something complex and delicious.  As a monger I get to connect people to this ancient tradition. Terroir!  Yummers!

I got into cheese from the farm-y end: before moving to New York I volunteered at a family farm in Colorado where I helped milk goats and cows and made butter and cheese.  I visited a cheese maker in Vermont last fall, and the odor in the cheese room during the make – warm, sour milk – broughts back a lot of fond memories for me.   I also got a little experience aging cheese at Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy when my friend Leah worked there (taste the Rockies!).  When I had a desk job as a consultant in Denver I would read books about goat farming and the cheese industry on the bus to work.  I went from clicking around on a computer to slinging cheese for the most influential specialty cheese purveyor in the country (next, The World…).

Career mathematics: mongering > consulting.  Maybe some day I’ll have my own goat farm and make farmstead cheeses.  As I know from my reading, though, as a dairy farmer, you have to be a part-time veterinarian.  So maybe I’ll be a doctor after all.

Robin Minkoff is a cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in Grand Central Terminal as well as a merchandising specialist for our Kroger outposts. Not even lactose intolerance can stand in the way of her love of cheese.

Spring Recipe Idea: Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Almonds

Just in time for Easter brunch – an easy and delicious recipe.

Bacon wrapped anything is just plain good. Wrap bacon around a scallop and you have an impossibly delicious land-meets-sea cocktail party morsel. Cover a chicken liver in bacon and you can make an offal-hater on a diet believe “fat meets fat” is a good thing (Fat is not a bad thing, by the way, but that’s a topic for another blog).

I started at Murray’s 3 months ago and one of my first assignments was to make our Bacon Wrapped Dates. I was quickly reminded of how much I adore bacon wrapped things when I pulled the first batch from the oven and – for professional reasons of course – popped one in my mouth.

The first rush is the smoky-salty perfection that is bacon, freshly sliced Nueske’s slab bacon to be precise. The bacon is wrapped around a plump Medjool date which any oven magically transforms into a gooey sweet candy. And here comes the kicker: inside the date is a creamy, tangy oozing bite of Bucheron goat cheese AND a surprising, pleasant crunch thanks to a single Marcona almond.

Crunchy, creamy. sweet, and salty – all in one bite. There isn’t a thing missing from this 3-D style hors d’oeuvres experience. It’s like a study in contrast of flavor and texture, I kid you not. Salty. Sweet. Creamy Crunchy. Want to make them? Of course you do. Lucky for you it’s incredibly easy. So get going, and bon appetit!

Bacon-Wrapped Dates     makes 10 pieces

10 Medjool dates (the large ones), pit removed with a paring knife

10 slices bacon (sliced thin)

10 whole marcona almonds

8-10 oz Bucheron

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Gently push 1 ounce of cheese and one almond inside each date. Squeeze the cut section of the date together. The natural stickiness will serve as a seal when you press the sides together and will help keep the cheese from oozing out.
  3. Lay a bacon strip down long ways and roll the date into the bacon.
  4. Place the dates on a baking sheet. If you have a wire cooling rack, place it on top of sheet pan and bake on this so the fat drips through the rack.
  5. Cook in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes, until the bacon is crisp.
  6. Dates will be hot! Let cool thoroughly to at or near room temperature before serving.

 

Michele Pulaski is a consulting chef at Murray’s Cheese. She has a way with words and can’t resist a colorful scarf.

Reinventing the Wheel: American Mountain Cheeses

The mountains of the Northeast may not approach the altitudes of the Alps or Pyrenees, but cheeses crafted in the nooks, crannies, and foothills of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks stand tall next to their European forebears.  American cheesemakers are in many ways still blazing a trail for hand-crafted cheese, free from many of the same constraints that shaped European cheese tradition.   Today the peaks and valleys of the American countryside yield some of our favorite farmstead cheeses– traditional Alpine wheels made from raw Jersey cow’s milk, terroir driven goat tommes, and luscious mixed-milk triple creams.

Spring Brook Farm—Reading, VT

While Alpine agrarians cooked and pressed the curd for their hefty wheels of Gruyere out of necessity (who wants to schlep a hundred balls of soft burrata down a mountain slope instead?), today you’ll find Alpine-style Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm made an expansive Vermont meadow, where a herd of 100 doe-eyed Jerseys (prized in the cheesemaking community for their rich milk) get their fill of lush grass in fields surrounding the cheese house.  The terrain might not be Alpine, the process certainly is: cheesemaker Jeremy Stephenson heats curds in traditional copper kettles, and finished wheels are washed and turned for months, all the while developing the characteristic Alpine flavors- a kick of pineapple, followed by a savory nuttiness akin to hazelnut butter.

Twig Farm—West Cornwall, VT

If meaty washed rinds like  Forsterkase and Vacherin Mont d’Or are more your speed, trek 60 miles across the Green Mountains to Twig Farm in West Cornwall, Vermont, where Michael Lee and Emily Sunderman milk a small herd of Alpine goats for their raw milk cheeses.   Twig’s Soft Wheel peaks in these mid-winter months, the buttery late-season milk redolent of wild grasses and wilder flowers, with a characteristic brightness.   Soft Wheel, aptly named, is washed in whey brine, which encourages its healthy pink rind and enhances its depth of flavor.

Nettle Meadow Farm—Warrensburg, NY

At Nettle Meadow Farm in the southern Adirondacks, cheesemakers Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanigan have embraced their rich, expressive milk and fashioned Kunik, a triple cream dream worthy of a picnic at any elevation. Though bloomy rinds reign the coastal regions of France, we think New York’s Kunik fits right in nestled in wooded, sloping terrain.  Made from the milk of Nettle Meadow’s herd of browsing goats, with an added dollop of cream from neighboring Jersey cows, Kunik is an unmistakably peanutty butter bomb, an edible testament to a balance of traditional skill and American ingenuity.

This month try all three in our American Mountain Trio – click here to learn more.

By Sascha Anderson