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  Photo: Nathan Harmon 
Tulsa's Cherry Street Farmers Market has a membership of more than 70 vendors that sell produce and specialty foods.

Pure Prairie Creamery in Ada is an island of cheese paradise. Established in 2008, Pure Prairie is a small artisan cheese plant established to support small local dairies. It represents a growing collection of farms, ranches, dining and shopping destinations in Oklahoma offering locally grown or produced fare to those with a craving for local food. There’s even a word to describe such culinary adventure seekers: locavore. A few ladies out in California came up with this snappy word to describe those choosing to eat locally grown or produced food. Perhaps indicative of the pervasive trend for dining on local foods, the word went on to become the 2007 Oxford Word of the Year.

Central to this pleasurable trend is the convergence of land, food, taste and experience. As I savor Oklahoma’s rich offering of complex local flavors, I discover local foods offer more than just fare produced from a particular farm or region; they plunge a traveler into a holistic experience rooted in making an authentic connection with the people and culture of a destination.

Pure Prairie Creamery

Founded to support small local goat dairies, Pure Prairie Creamery in Ada not only provides the dairies with an outlet for their goat milk, but also brings the art of making cheese from goat milk to Oklahoma. The creamery hired an award-winning cheese maker from Wisconsin to train its own Gary Huffstutlar in the art of cheese making. It opened for business in February 2008. Since opening, the creamery has been busy building a market and distribution for their wholesome cheeses, says Bill Clark, one of three owners of the plant.

“Goat cheese has a lot of flavor. Our cheeses are made from all-natural goat’s milk containing no hormones, additives or preservatives.”

I first sampled their goat cheese a few months ago. The rich, creamy texture of the cheese lights up your mouth with irresistible flavor. Later, I discovered the added bonus – goat cheese is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol than cow’s milk products, and provides more calcium and fewer carbs than comparable cow’s milk cheeses.

You can purchase Pure Prairie Creamery products at the plant, online or at various stores and markets throughout the state. The creamery also offers tours of the plant. Afterward, tickle your taste buds with a sampling from an array of delectable cheeses such as Plains Sunflower Goat Cheddar, Smoked Firewheel Pepper Jack Goat Cheese and Lazy Daisy Monterey Jack Goat Cheese. Since the cheese-making schedule varies, calling ahead to make reservations for the tour is recommended.   

Markets take on a celebratory atmosphere with live music, cooking contests and food samplings.

Farmers Markets

Another way to tap into local flavors and culture is a visit to Oklahoma’s more than 50 farmers markets across the state. While fresh, seasonal produce such as tomatoes, corn and watermelon may be the stars in the summer, farmers markets are increasingly offering a broad range of market vegetables, fruits and nuts, including heirloom varieties. Some of the produce is certified organic, and some markets also offer locally processed foods such as fresh breads, pastries, pickles, jams and jellies.

Markets take on a celebratory atmosphere with live music, cooking contests and food samplings. And farm-fresh eggs; free-range chicken, beef, lamb and buffalo; yogurts and cheeses from local dairies and hand-crafted gift items may round out a market’s wares.

The festive Cherry Street Farmers Market in Tulsa is open from April through October and hosts grilling demonstrations throughout their season along with pie and salsa contests. Leslie Moyer, secretary for the market association, noted visitors are amazed by the variety and abundance of produce offered by the market.

The Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City Farmers Market is open year-round and features fresh produce, meats and dairy products. One of the market’s vendors, Earth Elements Farm, runs a small booth-type store featuring a host of products from its own line of baked goods, as well as products from other producers, including gourmet mushrooms, organic wheat flour, honey and whole-wheat tortillas. April Harrington, owner of Earth Elements, says her most popular items – pizza crusts, crackers and cookies – are a big hit at the market.

Amish Cheese House

Nestled among the gentle green hills of northeastern Oklahoma, the Amish Cheese House in Chouteau was opened in 2000 and purchased by Wes and Leah Miller in 2001. In addition to a wide range of cheeses and foodstuffs from Amish communities in other states, their spic-and-span store features several lines of products such as homemade fudge, jams, noodles and cheese balls made by local Amish community members.

The day I visited their store, a table with an array of snacks offered irresistible noshing pleasures, and the aroma of fresh-baked bread wafted through the store from Nettie Ann’s Bakery, which is connected by a short hallway to the cheese house. As I watched Leah pour creamy caramel over turtle brownies, the lunch crowd took advantage of the store’s well-stocked deli with its freshly made soups and sandwiches.

Irma's Burger Shack

For a hamburger with a pedigree, you don’t have to look any further than Irma’s Burger Shack in Oklahoma City. The casual dining hot spot has developed such a loyal following that a second location has been opened. While the menu features delicious diner comfort food, buns down, the star of this show is the famously distinctive No Name burger, so named for the source of the hamburger meat, No Name Ranch in Wynnewood, where Bruce and Joan Buechner raise their mostly grain- and grass-fed Pinzgauer cattle without the use of hormones and antibiotics or pesticides.

Being an avid and frequent connoisseur of Irma’s comfort food, I can testify there is a difference between the No Name burger and the regular burger on Irma’s menu. While slightly higher in price, the No Name burger’s juicy goodness and moist, flavorful meat is so tender it almost melts in your mouth, making it worth every penny for that local food goodness. Both Irma’s locations are fun, family-friendly places, but the Midtown location at Plaza Court offers the added bonus of being close to several other local dining hot spots, so if you’re in the mood for a progressive restaurant jaunt, this may just be the place to start.