Smile Politely

A flock visits the farm

Goose Island Beer representatives were in Champaign all of last week doing pourings, tastings, and tap take-overs as part of Goose Island’s Migration Week, a series of beer tastings and events. Migration Week: Champaign culminated with a Wild Goose Chase in downtown Champaign on Friday night. On Thursday night, though, Prairie Fruits Farm hosted Goose Island for an intimate beer dinner, which SP food writer Pamela Saunders and I were lucky to attend.

We pulled onto the farm just before the 6 p.m. start time, and as we drove down the relatively short driveway, we passed a beautifully set long table on the patio. There was an additional table with ample amount of beer, and a few of the dinner attendees mingling, beers in hands. The day had been pretty hot and humid, but there was a nice breeze on the farm, making the outdoor eating and drinking situation quite lovely.

As soon as we walked up, we were greeted by the Goose Island representatives, who immediately handed us some cold beers. They were two very friendly and outgoing women, which I suppose should not have been surprising given their professional positions as beer educators and sales folks. As we sipped on our beers, we chatted among the other guests, waiting for the last few people to arrive.

Leslie Cooperband, co-owner (with husband Wes Jarrell) of Prairie Fruits Farm, mingled with guests. Once everyone had arrived, she led us on a tour of the farm, sharing PFF’s origin and other fun stories as we walked around. In short, Cooperband and Jarrell moved to C-U in 2003. In 2004, they converted then seven-acre land (it’s now about 15 acres) to perennial agriculture and pasture. They also bought four goats—three does and a buck — which very quickly turned into six goats. In 2005 they established the farmstead creamery, and in 2008 they put in a kitchen. In their first year with the kitchen they did five on-farm dinners; this year they’ll have 14.

If you haven’t been to the farm, it’s really a must-do in C-U, especially at this time of year. The scenery is beautiful, and those goats are so damn cute. There’s also a lovely dog called Blue. Full disclosure: I totally want to steal him (but I won’t).

After our tour around the farm, we sat down for dinner. Dinner was prepared by Alisa DeMarco, PFF’s chef. The food was incredible, and if you’ve been thinking about splurging for a Dinner on the Farm: do it. It’s well worth the price tag. For this dinner, Goose Island brought along three beers: 312, Sofie, and Ogden. These three were paired with the cheese course, the salad, and the main dinner entrée, respectively. Although each beer was selected to be served with a specific each course, the beers were versatile enough to go with any of the courses. The Goose Island team brought their knowledge and enthusiasm for the brewery and the beer to the stories and information they shared. (JH)

Prairie Fruits Farm Cheese Plate with Chevre, Angel Food, and Moonglo with rhubarb jam, peach mostarda, homemade crackers and pickled beets; Goose Island 312

The first course came out family style, which I did not expect at this type of event. I will come right out and say that the prospect of sharing food with total strangers does not excite me. I’m a hungry gal, and sharing food at the table is an exercise in scarce resource management that often leaves me worried I won’t get enough food. How’s that for cool? Anyway, family style cheese plate with many accoutrements! There was a farm-fresh chevre, which was way different in texture and taste from the chevre you can buy in a log at the grocery store. This days-old chevre was creamy, yet light as air. It had a barely-there tang that would please any cheese eater, no matter how picky (and it was the first to go at our table). Sandwiched next to the chevre was the Angel Food cheese, my personal favorite. Angel Food was highly reminiscent of its cake namesake. So pillowy! I ate whole wedges at a time. I have plans to come back for this one. Finally, we sampled the Moonglo, which was just fantastic. Moonglo is a raw cheese that has been aged for about three months. The flavor profile is like a Manchego crossed with aged Gouda: creamy and nutty, with a rich depth and a little bit of earthiness. This was an excellent contrast to the chevre and Angel Food, which were a bit similar in texture and flavor.  The standout accent to this trio of cheeses was definitely the pickled beets. I love beets already, but was not expecting the cinnamon flavor that these had.  All in all, this course was simply dreamy, especially against the backdrop of the setting sun and farm scenery. And as it turns out, there was more than enough cheese to go around. They almost took the platter away with cheese still on it. The horror! I had to step in and save the day on that one.

The beer for this course was the 312, and it surprised me. I drink 312 all the time; it’s a go-to beer that can usually be found in the fridge at any grad student house party. But alongside the cheese platter it suddenly felt a little more artisanal and special. 312 is golden and light. I wouldn’t say it held its own with the cheese flavor-wise so much as it set the stage and stood back to let the cheese shine. And on a hot, humid summer night, it was a smart choice. Maybe its time to reacquaint yourself with 312.  (PS)

This opening course was my favorite of the night. The cheese, jam, crackers, and beets came from the farm, and the freshness was unbeatable. The cheeses were the most amazing things I’ve eaten in some time. The chevre was so incredibly creamy and smooth, and as a mild cheese, it didn’t overwhelm the other components on the plate, but added the most amazing texture to each bite. There were homemade oat and sesame crackers on the plate, and the oat crackers contained a bit of chevre. This was totally apparent, as the crackers had this lovely, creamy texture and richness in flavor. The rhubarb jam was sweet without being overly so, and when paired with the Angel Food and Moonglo cheeses, struck the right balance of sweet and nutty.

Goose Island’s 312 was a solid beer pairing for the cheese plate. The beer’s wheatiness was apparent but not overpowering when paired with the cheese and accoutrements. (JH)

Salad of Blue Moon Farm mixed greens and baby kale, apples, blackberries, shallots, candied spiced pecans, herbed vinaigrette; Goose Island 312

Bread by Stewart Pequinot

Salad time! Honestly, what made this salad for me was the expertly prepared herb vinaigrette. It was salty and bitter, and really made the apples and blackberries sing. Salads, believe it or not, need salt. A new friend at the table was really into the candied spiced pecans, and for good reason: they were toasty, crunchy, and salty-sweet. An extra bowl of them found its way to the table, too! I love seeing that kind of generosity and attentive service to guests. This course was plated individually, and came out in that signature expensive salad style that we know and love (read: delightfully disheveled). The greens had crisp stems and bitter leaves, and were perfectly dressed.

What took this course to the next level was the Goose Island Sofie Saison/Farmhouse ale. That beer, man. It’s too good. I had tried Sofie before, but had not yet had a chance to give it my undivided attention. It was a clear table favorite. This was the beer that the Goose Island reps seemed most excited about, too. Sofie is bubbly and effervescent, with a hint of orange peel and crisp apple-y flavors. The reps were totally right when they described it as almost like champagne, and an excellent champagne alternative for mimosas (take me to this mimosa, please). Sofie is definitely one to check out.

A side note: the bread for this meal came from Stewart Pequinot, of Stewart’s Artisan Breads at the Urbana Farmer’s Market, and it was killer. We had a basket of sourdough (slathered in salty butter, of course). The bread was crusty on the outside and soft and stretchy on the inside, and the sourdough was pleasantly sweet in an unexpected way. If you’re looking for a great table bread for your next meal, Stewart’s Artisan Breads is the way to go. (PS)

The bread. Holy shit. Crunchy crust, soft and chewy interior. It was heavenly.

The salad was beautifully plated. The aroma was fresh — it smelled like the garden. The vinaigrette was refreshingly citrusy and light, and paired perfectly with the slightly tart blackberries and sweet apples. The greens were crisp and held up to the weight of the heavier components. The pecans were amazing; I think everyone at the table had something positive to say about them. Most guests were trying to figure out how to get their hands on a bag (or two). They were perfectly sweet and delicately spiced; they were incredibly well balanced and someone made them with love.

Sofie, Goose Island’s Belgian style farmhouse ale was crisp, and its fruity qualities paired well with this salad, as its tart notes harmonized with the blackberries and the apples. This was my favorite beer of the night — it was perfectly refreshing on a hot evening, and paired well with all of the courses. (JH)

Wood grilled Bane Family Farm Freedom Ranger chicken, pastured pork sausages with sauce pistou; wheatberry salad with heirloom tomatoes, grilled corn, herbs, and goat’s milk feta; haricot vert with tarragon butter; Goose Island Ogden

The main course, like the cheese plate, came out family style on large platters. By this time it had grown dark outside, and the table was faintly illuminated by small oil lamps. It was a cool vibe, but a little too dark for the main course. Jess had a hard time getting pictures, and it was not easy to really see what we were eating. And at the risk of exposing my Southern California roots, eating chicken drumsticks in the dark reminds me a little too much of Medieval Times, or that restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Maybe a little more lighting next time?

I had been anticipating the chicken since we arrived and saw the wood smokers going outside the barn. It must be noted that Wood Grilled Bane Family Farm Freedom Ranger Chicken is the longest title I’ve ever seen for a chicken, but it did not disappoint. The skin was salty and crinkled, and the meat beneath was delightfully smoked. The pastured pork sausages were thick and savory, with a tight casing that made a satisfying popping sound when punctured. I covered both the chicken and sausage with the provided sauce pistou, a sharp green herb sauce that complemented the smoky grill flavors. One side was a wheat berry salad with heirloom tomatoes and goat feta, which drew rave reviews from those sitting around me. I’m not a raw tomato person, but in the spirit of the evening I enjoyed a few and did not hate them! The other side was haricots verts — or, green beans — with tarragon butter. This, I loved. The green beans were not too soft, not too crunchy, and the tarragon butter left an unforgettable earthy flavor that mingled beautifully with the chicken and pork. I like that earthiness as a quality was augmented across the cheese, greens, and proteins — we are on a farm, after all. It just felt right for the setting.

Our pairing for this course was the Ogden, a Belgian style Tripel. At 9% ABV, this beer will have you feeling great in no time. The Ogden is hoppy and dark gold, with a heavy yeast-malt-spice flavor. I also detected some citrus and dried fruit, but this is not a sweet beer. If the Sofie is a polished mimosa brunch, the Ogden is a warmly lit tavern on a crisp fall evening. It was a truly excellent pairing for this meaty, earthy main course. (PS)

By the time this course came out, it was totally dark outside. Everything was served family style, and by this time (and this many beers), everyone felt a bit like family. The chicken was deliciously moist and chicken-y. Yes, that sounds crazy—of course the chicken tasted like chicken, you say. But no. This chicken tasted like a delicious chicken: a well seasoned, well cooked, perfectly moist piece of poultry, with crispy golden skin. The sausage had an excellent texture and was slightly sweet. All of the meat smelled of smoke in an incredibly enticing way. The green beans were cooked to crisp-tender, and the tarragon butter was earthy, slightly bitter, and aromatic. My favorite component, though, was the wheat berry salad. Holy shit, it was the best thing I’ve eaten in C-U in a very, very long time. Everything was cooked and seasoned perfectly. The chewy wheatberries were the perfect textural foils to the soft and sweet tomatoes, crunchy sweet corn, and deliciously salty and perfect feta. I could eat that salad everyday for the rest of my life.

The Ogden, named for the 19th century mayor of Chicago who literally built Goose Island and ran a brewery, was a malty, heavier beer than the ones we sampled earlier in the night. At 9% ABV, this brew will knock you out if you’re not paying attention (or eating a ton of food). The dry hops tied in with the earthy veggies, making it an appropriate selection for this course. (JH)

After the main course we were treated to surprise chocolate meringues! They were mercifully light and crumbly. I really restrained myself this time and only ate five or six. By the end of the meal I felt full and happy. I would like to pay a compliment to the head chef, Alisa. The meal was beautiful and delicious, and the service was excellent. Prairie Fruits Farm is a really special place, and getting to spend an evening there is something I won’t soon forget. I would also like to thank the Goose Island reps for being kind and unintimidating when sharing their craft beer with guests. (PS)

The goats were not dessert. Who doesn’t love these little faces? (JH)

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