Doesn't it often seem the people who become legendary, who make a name for themselves in their art, do so almost accidentally? They think they're on the road to one thing, laying the best plans, but take an unexpected turn and find themselves surprised by wild success. Such is the story of Judy Schad, co-owner and cheesemaker of Capriole Goat Cheese in Greenville.
It was the mid '70s, and - long before it was hip - Judy, her husband, and their three small children ditched the 'burbs of Louisville and moved to an 80-acre hill farm in Greenville. Judy had grown up spending summers at her grandparents' small farm outside New Albany, and harbored a nostalgic, maybe unrealistic memories of those times. "It explains a lot about why I'm here - I thought I'd be walking back into a child's dream - and well, it's not quite as I remembered it... [my husband's] comment is that I can turn any dream into a nightmare, just give me a chance!"
Her story says as much about their unpaved, rutted path (metaphorically speaking) to the farm - as well as the joy they've undoubtedly encountered on the journey. "It was a real fiasco," she says. "We were truly city people coming to the country - we didn't know what we were doing." But when a neighbor gave them a goat for her son to use as a 4-H project, the family fell in love with the almost, as she puts it, "dog-like" animal.
That goat had some goats, and those goats had more goats. And they soon found themselves with a small herd, and lots of milk. "None of us ever enjoyed drinking the milk," she says. "The first time I had [goat] cheese I thought... this is what you're supposed to do with the milk."
She got her start after seeing "Cheese Queen" Ricki Carroll at an American Dairy Goat Farmers conference. After a few years making cheese at home, "I took my little basket of cheeses over to Louisville and was embarrassed to sell them. It was like I was saying, 'Do you like it? Do you really like it? Surely you're not gonna give me money for it!' - I was not quite the businesswoman."
But she became one. In 1988, she made her mark when Capriole cheese won the Best of the Midwest Market competition at Navy Pier in Chicago. She picked up distributors while still selling to a select market she was growing in cities like Chicago and New York (her first Indianapolis buyer was Sidney Maurer at the old Atlas Market at 54th Street and College Avenue).
"The thing that really changed it for us was not so much size, not so much where we sold it, but what we started selling," she says In 1993 she met a French exporter from Lyon who advised her to do more of what the Europeans do - that is, focus on signature cheeses from a specific region. "In other words, we needed to do here in two years what they did in France in 2000 years." So she began producing surface-ripened cheeses, and it was the golden ticket. In 1995 her Wabash Cannonball won Best of Show at the American Cheese competition.
Piazza Produce cemented her presence in the Indianapolis market. She began working with the company about five years ago, and today it's her biggest customer. "They're great guys - they go everywhere, and have a real chef-based business. Indiana has finally caught on," she says. "There's a whole new food scene out there, and they're becoming a part of it."
Judy still works in the Capriole creamery on a weekly basis, but in 2012, the operation outgrew its milk supply, which drew on her 25-year-old closed herd of 500 goats. After much hand-wringing, she sold the herd to a now 1100-count goat farm in Goshen. That farm, in turn, sells milk back to Capriole. It's a relationship that's offered some relief to the Schads, who can now focus fully on making cheese, knowing their dairy farmers follow the same standards they did when goats grazed their own pastures.
What's Schad's favorite cheese? "You know, it just all depends on what's on that week. You stand behind the table at the [Chicago] market, and you taste that one, and you just know - this is the cheese of the day. And the customers believe me because they know we're not going to steer them wrong."