Living on the food trail has so many advantages–and on Sunday I was lucky enough to spend my day savoring some of the cheese, gelato, meats, and wines that are produced on some of the incredible farms we have right here in east central Illinois.
The afternoon began at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Champaign where Wes Jarrell (co-owner with Leslie Cooperband) led us on a tour through the kitchen garden where produce is grown for their farm-to-table dinners, into the kid barn–where we met a day-old and very precocious
Nigerian Dwarf kid, and then into the milking parlor where we learned about how the nearly 70-doe herd is milked twice a day. We ended the tour in the barn/dining room where Leslie met us and talked about some of the cheeses and gelato they make right there on the farm. And then the best part–we tasted some of the farmstead cheeses, including Little Bloom on the Prairie (a wonderful gooey bloomy rind cheese), Moonglo (a harder tangy cheese–can you say grilled cheese on sourdough?) and several flavors of gelato, including mint (made with chocolate mint grown in my garden–is it okay to toot my own horn?), chocolate, vanilla,strawberry, and a traditional italian hazelnut. Dreamy, I know. And there is more.After the tasting, we, the agritourists, armed with maps and smart phones, loaded into our cars and headed east for the 20 minute drive to our next stop, KD Ranch and Sugar Shack Antiques in Oakwood.
This stop was the most surprising for me, because I had never been there before, in fact, I had never heard of it before.
Bison,Texas Long Horn cattle, a Scottish Highlander–it seems like an appropriate time to say Holy Cow! How could I have not known about this? The animals grazed on a tree-lined lush green pasture that bordered the antique shop and parking area, so it was easy to get up close, and with some coaching from Doug,one of the owners, even feed the friendlier of the cattle.
We were treated to some of the cured meats that they offer, including a Elk jerky, and beef stick. We happily munched on the treats as we browsed the antique shop for farm treasures–you know, the kinds of things that remind you of your grandparents’ farm, and talked to Kim about the other specialty meat products that they offer in the shop.
The next stop, Sleepy Creek Vineyards, was close by, also in Oakwood. So ten minutes later, we arrived at the stop that for me, a California native, felt very familiar.
As we entered the drive, we were suddenly surrounded by vineyards and trees. The tasting room building is surrounded by a beautiful lawn scattered with tables, a fire pit, and a view of the pond.
We were greeted by Dawn and Joe Taylor, the owners, who guided us on a tour of the vineyard where we saw the still green tiny grape clusters, nibbled on some tender grape vine tendrils,
At this, the last stop on the trail, the agritourists had built up a healthy hunger and thirst, so we were enthusiastic about the full wine tasting that was accompanied by another selection of cured meats, and cheeses, from KD Ranch and Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery. We tasted about ten whimsically named red and white wines from dry to sweet, and ended with the specialty selection of sangria, wine slushies, and the spicy tomato wine that was paired with a bloody mary mix to create the last taste treat of the day, a winey mary!
And yes, earlier, I really did say wine slushie.
There are more of these tours throughout the summer – to sign up, go to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery’s Fork in the Road page.