I was given a wonderful opportunity last June by the creative director of Culture Magazine, to shoot their centerfold cheese of the season called, Ewe Bloom. The issue just came out this month, and I thought I would share a few extra images from the shoot, and tell you a little about my experience. The detailed story about the cheese, written by Matthew Rubiner, will have to be read when you pick up your own copy of the magazine - found at most Barnes & Noble bookstores and a few fine cheese shops in the Seattle area. I was still in Illinois at the time, and I was to shoot at two locations - Prairie Fruit Farm and Creamery, in Champaign, IL (which is where the cheese is made and based out of) about 80mi outside of Springfield, and a sheep farm in Arthur, IL, home of the most populated Amish community in Illinois (which is where the milk for the cheese comes from) about 63mi outside of Springfield.
Arthur, IL is absolutely fascinating! There are yield signs for horse-drawn carriages (and yes, horse-drawn carriages), old men with long beards and suspenders riding bikes, every person I talked to was very soft spoken and very helpful, all of the simplicities were amazing - the simple handmade clothes, hats and bonnets, all the way down to their farming equipment - most of which were horse-drawn as well.
The interesting challenge about photographing an assignment in an Amish community, is that you are not allowed to photograph the people (their faces must not be recognizable). It is against their rules. Luckily, I was there to document the sheep, the farm, and one of the employees of Prairie Farm (who is not Amish) - but I certainly got a few nervous looks. The idea of photographing them though, became a very interesting thing to contemplate. I drove home that evening trying to come up with book ideas on how to photograph the Amish in a way that was not against the rules, yet still told their story. I have a few ideas bouncing around, that I might pursue later on. I think it could be a really beautiful piece. I was very moved by their lifestyle - it's quiet breathtaking.
Filling up on sheep's milk.
The next day, I made my way to Prairie Fruit Farm and Creamery. A small farm on the outskirts of downtown Champaign, where they grow fruit of all kinds (on trees and bushes), harvest honey, and have goats-o-plenty. It is owned by a lovely husband/wife team - Wes and Leslie - who both have a part in making the cheeses that they produce. If you are ever in the Champaign area you should visit them at the local farmers market, or better yet, join them for one of their 'dinners on the farm' - where you can enjoy all of the luscious local treats in a 4-5 course meal created by their chef Alisa DeMarco (yep, they have a certified kitchen too).
Who knew making cheese was such a long process?!...okay, probably everyone did. I honestly didn't know it would take so long. The image above of Wes pouring the milk into the cauldron was at 7am, the image of Leslie below cutting the curds was taken at around 2:30pm...and that is just the start. They then have to pour the curds into molding containers, let them rest, and then flip them a handful of times (it helps them drain all the excess fluid as the cheese curds combine together). And even after that, they are put in a small, temperature regulated room where they age to perfection...I did not wait that long...I'm pretty sure I'd still be there if I did that :)
What was fun about the waiting process - was what we got to do while we waited - test cheese. There was a "dinner at the farm" meal that coming weekend, and they were hoping to premiere some new kinds of cheeses that they had been experimenting with. Two of which had a paprika dusting on top, and one was a raw sheep's milk - Leslie was cooing over that one. They were all quite tasty. I love my job!
well...okay, we didn't test cheese during the ENTIRE waiting process. I had plenty of time to take in all of the sites and sounds of the farm...and sun (there was actually an extreme weather warning that day, due to the heat...and I didn't put on sunscreen that morning - I'll just leave it at that). They had two sweet little kitties on the farm, this little guy was a stray that adopted them a while back - very sweet, and very blind.
and of course the goats - you can't deny the goats! They were very hot that day, and they let you know all about it.
and behold! The final product - Ewe Bloom cheese, herb and original.
You can actually become apart of Culture's centerfold cheese club, and try some yourself!
Have a look at the new Culture Magazine Autumn issue, it's pretty fantastic! - even one of my all time favorite food photographers, Matt Armendariz, photographed a piece for the issue...I'm honored to be in the same pages as his work.