If you have to explain logically everything you do or think of, you’d go batty. That’s my way of saying that I don’t know how or why, nor do I remember exactly when, I woke up one day and decided that I would hereinafter become a lover of all things goaty. Weird, given the fact that I wouldn’t touch goat dairy with a ten-foot pole when I was younger. But here I am right in the thick of it, happily slathering fresh goat cheese on my crackers, drinking goat milk, and making all kinds of baked goods with goat butter. There’s even a quart of fresh chèvre — real cultured fresh chèvre — draining on my kitchen counter as we speak.
Having found myself a devout follower of the cult of goats, I thought a pilgrimage to a local goat farm was in order. One chilly Saturday morning, after a 4-hour drive, I found myself surrounded by billies and nannies at Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, Illinois.
For a short period of time each year, the folks at Prairie Fruits Farm hold an open house on Saturdays so the public can enjoy a tour of the farm and some breakfast. I’m usually not much of a fan of brunch events, especially one that requires a 4-hour drive. But the appeal of being able to get up close and personal with the goats was too great. You see, I grew up right in the middle of a concrete jungle of 10 million people. In light of that, my unbridled giddiness over seeing and touching bearded ruminant mammals whose milk I adore is justified.
Dishes made from the farm’s own produce and dairy products are served all morning, and the goats get to meet people they don’t normally hang with. I had such a great time taking pictures of happy goats, drinking hot chocolate made of goat milk, and having my share of freshly made cheesy strata.
In fact, it was the strata that sort of planted in my head the idea of writing this post.
Strata is an uncomplicated dish that does not require too many ingredients. The method of preparation is also very simple. It’s just a matter of whisking up a simple custardy mixture of eggs, cream or milk, and cheese(s) and letting day-old bread cubes soak up that delicious liquid before baking everything up into a moist, cheesy, and eggy casserole. The strata I had at the farm that morning had nothing in it other than bread, eggs, sun-dried tomatoes, Swiss chard, cream, and fresh goat cheese.
But, oh, it was so unbelievably good that it easily won over someone like me who had never been a fan of brunch. Or casseroles, for that matter.
“The success of the recipe depends entirely on the quality of ingredients used,” says Chef Alisa DeMarco of Prairie Fruits Farm. She uses house-made wheat bread, sun-dried Juliet tomatoes which were prepared in-house, high-quality cream from a local creamery, and, of course, the farm’s famous fresh chèvre.
Speaking of chèvre, Leslie Cooperband, one of the owners of Prairie Fruits Farm, has been kind enough to help answering my questions regarding how to make fresh goat cheese at home. No, we’re not talking about the cheaters’ method of making “goat cheese” that has you boil up goat milk with added lemon or lime juice until the milk curdles then drain off the whey. I’ve tried that method. And, well … The end result wasn’t awful, but it was a far, far cry from real cultured fresh goat cheese chèvre style which is the very reason why we love goat cheese to begin with.
The creaminess. The tang. The goatiness. If these are what you look for in homemade goat cheese, you have to go all the way. That means you need to use real chèvre culture and incubate the milk in such a way that lets it develop the desired flavor and texture.
The good news is that it doesn’t cost that much and it isn’t very difficult at all. Compared to other types of cheese that you may want to make at home, fresh goat cheese is considered one of the easiest and the most newbie-friendly. (For sure, it’s a lot less complicated than mozzarella!) There are some special equipments that you need, but the satisfaction that comes from making your own cheese makes it worth the trouble.
Leslie has explained the process of making fresh chèvre here. It’s uncomplicated. I’ve followed her directions and so far produced three batches of absolutely delicious homemade fresh goat cheese even with store-bought whole goat milk. Imagine how much more delicious fresh goat cheese made from fresh-from-the-udder milk would be.
Prairie Fruits Farm offers various cheese products, fruits from their own orchard, and a Community Supported Goat (CSG) Share Program which allows you to develop an intimate relationship with your goat(s). In fact, you can even bring a goat (or two) home if you want to. (I certainly have entertained that thought until I realized I could barely take care of myself let alone, uh, a goat. But your situation may be different.)
I will blog about how to make fresh goat cheese, chèvre style, according to the Prairie Fruits Farm’s method in a future post which will go up very soon. Everything will be explained step by step. I was apprehensive in the beginning, but after the first batch, my confidence grew. Making fresh chèvre that tastes like something you get from a farmers’ market or a cheese store is not difficult at all.
But for now, the kind people at Prairie Fruits Farm have allowed me to share with you this recipe for the delicious strata which I had on their farm that beautiful Saturday morning.
Fresh Chèvre Swiss Chard and Sun-Dried Tomato Strata
Recipe courtesy of Chef Alisa DeMarco of Prairie Fruits Farm
Makes one 9″x13″ casserole
Half of one loaf of bread, cut into 1.5″ cubes and left out to dry overnight
8 large eggs
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained if packed in oil and cut into thin strips
One bunch of Swiss chard, with the tough parts trimmed off, chopped, and sauteéd
6-8 ounces of fresh goat cheese
3 1/4 cups of heavy cream
Approximately 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano (I went rogue and used Asiago.)
1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Disclosure: SheSimmers.com is not in any way connected to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery. The author has not been compensated for the writing of this article in any manner, monetary or otherwise.