Prairie Fruits Farm was founded in 2003 by the husband and wife team of Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband, who left academic and urban lives in Madison, WI to run a farm in Champaign Urbana, IL.
With a focus on organic and sustainable farming, Wes and Leslie set about restoring the 7-acre farm’s soils that had been previously used for cash grain crops. A task that in 2004 led them to plant 350 fruit trees, 600 berry plants, and the purchase of their first Nubian goats. In 2005, they were licensed as a Grade A goat dairy and farmstead creamery. Since then, Wes and Leslie have grown the farm to more than 40 acres and expanded their goat herd to around 70 milking does of both the Nubian and La Mancha breeds.
While the couple uses milk from their own herd, they also purchase sheep’s milk from the only licensed sheep dairy in the state. With the goat and sheep’s milk cheeses that Prairie Fruits Farm produces, they are dedicated to highlighting the terroir of Central Illinois.
Made from raw goat’s milk, Huckleberry Blue is an aged blue-veined cheese with a natural rind sometimes encased in sycamore leaves. The name was inspired by one of Prairie Fruits Farm’s foundation Nubian milking does “Huckleberry.” She’s an assertive, strong-willed doe and both her coloring and personality match the bold, blue flavors of this cheese.
Cheeses are made seasonally between early spring and late fall. This allows cheesemaker Leslie Cooperband to take advantage of the naturally high solids in the seasonal goat milk - and particularly the high butterfat content.
The blue veins in Huckleberry Blue develop as a result of the inclusion of starter culture Penicillium Roqueforti which is added as the milk is heated for cheesemaking.
Wheels are offered for sale with or without a wrapping of sycamore leaves. If applied, this happens after about 1 month of age, with leaves that come from a tree on the farm. The leaves are then soaked in a local, organic pear brandy sourced from Koval Distillery in Chicago IL.
As the cheeses mature, which takes a minimum of three months, wheels are pierced once to promote the development of the blue veining.