News and Tribune

October 3, 2007

The big cheese: Southern Indiana farm is making world-class goat cheese

By Jennifer Rigg

Thirty years ago Judy Schad packed up her young, city-dwelling family and headed to the country in hopes of fulfilling a life-long dream.

“I don’t know why we did it,” she said with a laugh. “We were kind of crazy, I guess.”

Crazy, maybe, but determined, definitely. In just a few short years, Schad found herself somewhere she’d never expected to be — one of the most respected goat cheese makers in the country.

Capriole Farm, nestled in the hills of Greenville just outside Louisville, makes celebrated cheeses that are featured on menus at restaurants across the country, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. She has been featured in magazines from the New Yorker to People and Martha Stewart Living and has won more awards than she has room to display, including several from the American Cheese Society.

Raised in downtown New Albany, Schad married and moved to Silver Hills where she had three children. She spent her days working on a doctorate degree in Renaissance literature and was teaching English classes at the University of Louisville. But something, she said, was missing.

“I had a garden and raised green beans, and I wanted a cow,” she said remembering her confined, city home. “I was just wanting more land to be able to do the whole ‘back to the land’ thing; to live a different kind of life.”

In 1978, the family moved to 80 acres of farmland that they would later discover once belonged to the ancestors of Schad’s husband, Larry Schad. They built a small log cabin and spent the days enjoying the rolling green hills, woodland areas and moss-covered ponds.

“We didn’t know it at the time, but we had really come home,” Schad said.

“We had no air conditioning, no garbage disposals, no anything for probably about five years,” she said of her family’s fresh, country start. “After awhile we decided we could do it, but we’d like some of the amenities of life.”

And so she and her husband began adding modern conveniences to their small, modest home. As their comfort levels began to raise, an old, childhood wish made itself known again.

“I still wanted a cow,” she said. “But my neighbor said, ‘What you need is a goat.’

“Oh, he was a miserable creature,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t believe we got another one after that one, but we did.”

Two goats became five, which became 15, and today, the cries of more than 500 goats fill the area around Capriole Farm. Each one, Schad says, has a name and each carry a very special place in her heart.

“They’re just an animal you fall in love with,” she said. “They each have their own personality and they each like you so much. And they’re way too smart for their own good. They can figure out how to get out of any gate.”

As the number of goats began to rise at Capriole Farm, the number of gallons of milk did also. Schad prided herself on being a good cook, but cheese making was never something with which she had experimented.

Schad decided to enroll in a cheese making class at a national goat conference in 1982. Still curious about producing the cheese commercially, she sought the advice of renowned cheese maker Laura Schenel, the first woman specialty cheese maker in the country. Then, in 1987, she traveled to Massachusetts and studied with Letty Kilmoyer, the first goat cheese maker in the United States.

“She let me come for a week or two and let me see if it was something I wanted to do commercially,” Schad said. “I just fell in love and thought this might be something I want to do someday.”

As her cheese making endeavor expanded beyond the walls of her home’s kitchen, Schad began hauling her goats’ milk to Hubers in Starlight

“The dogs ate a lot of bad cheese,” Schad joked, “but we got better.” And in 1988, Capriole Farm was born, the same year they won their first award from the American Cheese Society.

Capriole Farm is now a completely self-sufficient farm with cheese made only from milk harvested from their own goats. They make daily three different kinds of cheese — the common fresh, soft goat cheese, ripened cheeses and aged raw milk cheeses.

Schad began selling these cheeses to restaurants and at markets in Louisville, Bloomington, Indianapolis and Chicago. But her home state — after which she’d named cheeses like Mount St. Francis, Wabash Cannonball and O’Banon — didn’t immediately embrace the product.

“We went door to door and asked, ‘Would you like to taste this?’” she said adding that few were interested. “It was disappointing. I don’t understand why people don’t want to support their local communities. I guess people just don’t even realize what’s right in their backyards.”

Several of Capriole’s cheeses are now, however, featured at the New Albany Bistro.

Next year, Capriole Farm will celebrate 30 years and a dream that did come true. Schad fulfilled her wish of returning to the land and using it to its full capacity. But when asked if she feels success after all these years, Schad’s answer is anything but direct.

“Success is relative,” she said. “If success means getting up at 5:30 every morning and training a whole new mess of people, then I’m happy and I guess that’s success. I didn’t think I would probably ever be making the amount of milk we do or that we would have had the recognition we’ve had.

“The interesting thing, from a local standpoint, is that people need to realize that real food reflects a real place, real people, real animals. Ours is not just a label signifying nothing. It’s a reflection of a real place. This is all a real piece of Kentuckiana. It isn’t just romance, I believe in it.”