I have many favorite vendors at the Green City Market, and one of them is Capriole, from Greenville, Indiana, a maker of farmstead goat cheese (cheese made using milk from the farm’s own animals). When, on my last two visits, the Piper’s Pyramide was on a special promotion, I didn’t hesitate a second to jump on a good thing. After being unmolded, this velvety, surface-ripened goat cheese, is stored in a cave to develop a soft, wrinkly rind. The dusting of paprika is a nod to Piper, one of owner Judy Schad’s red-haired granddaughters, and how the cheese got named. How cute is that? Making this cheese even more beautiful is the edible mold (the same as in blue cheese and many French cheeses) that forms as the cheese ages but does not affect the flavor in any way.
American cheese makers have made great strides in the past few decades in crafting artisanal cheeses that rival those of Europe. Capriole is one notable maker. Founder and cheese maker Judy Schad represents one of the trailblazers who began in the early 1980s, along with Ann Topham from Fantome Farm in Wisconsin, to lead the development of Midwest artisan-cheese making. It was a time when no guidelines for commercial goat dairying existed, leaving Schad to develop a sustainable and traditional model by trial and error.
More than 30 years ago, Judy and her attorney husband, Larry Schad, bought an 80-acre farm in southern Indiana, making the move from suburbia to farm life with their three young children. Of all the animals on the farm, Judy took to the friendly dairy goats. When the small but growing herd began producing more milk than the Schads could consume, they started making cheese and giving it away. Demand and interest grew, and so did Capriole’s operations with the addition of a small dairy and use of leased space for making the cheese. By 1990, the Schads had built their own creamery and worked with chefs and farmers markets to sell their goods.
Judy credits the long-standing partnership of chefs and local cheese makers with nurturing Midwest artisanal cheeses in the early years to create awareness among consumers. “There were few farm markets then,” she notes, “and the challenge was from imported cheeses. The cheeses we made had to be good enough to sit next to them on the shelf.” There were other challenges to bringing burgeoning Midwest cheeses to consumers, one of which was the US supermarket model, which lacks the hands-on attention such delicate cheeses need, as is done in fromageries in France.
Today, Capriole has around 550 dairy goats, of which some 360 are milked at peak times, to produce about 85,000 pounds annually of around 10 varieties of fresh, ripened, and aged cheeses with fun names like Sofia, Crocodile Tear, and Wabash Cannonball. For Americans who bemoan the lack of raw-milk cheeses in the States, they have one less reason to complain. Capriole is one the first artisan producers of aged, raw-milk cheeses in the United States, offering three semi-hard types (Old Kentucky Tomme, Mont St. Francis, and Juliana).
Capriole’s cheeses can now be found at a number of Chicago restaurants, including Everest, North Pond, Naha, Prairie Fire, Four Seasons, Terzo Piano, Fiddlehead Café, Terragusto, and Uncommon Ground. At Green City and other markets, you can taste any of the cheeses, ask about them, and understand why chefs at some of the city’s top restaurants serve them. On some occasions, you might even meet Judy herself, who doesn’t look the farm type at all, usually sporting her trademark pearl necklace. If you do talk to her, she might remind you to store the cheeses in the paper they come in—not in plastic—as they need to breathe while they ripen further or age.