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Back in the 1980s, Judy Schad was forging ahead in the very new landscape of American small-production cheesemaking. She's the founder of Capriole Goat Cheese, and back then, she was joined in her field by a very small number of start-up cheesemakers, including her friend Mary Keehn, who founded Cypress Grove.
But Judy was making cheese before then, where she lived in Greenville, Indiana. Greenville is your typical rural Indiana town: long, meandering roads tucked in between swaths of trees, rolling hills, and expansive fields. The Capriole farm is very 'off a dirt road, and another dirt road, and another,' and very much a working farm—Judy still raises the goats, and ages and sells the cheese there.
At the time Judy started Capriole, the artisan cheese selection in the States was very limited—and it stayed that way into the 1990s. It was then, at what's probably considered the very beginning of the American artisan cheese movement, that cheesemakers like Judy and Mary were becoming more specialized. They were beginning to go beyond fresh chèvre.
Among her other award-winning cheeses, Judy makes a funky little number that's seduced me since the mid-aughts, not only for its flavor but for its odd wrinkly shape and barnyard-y, slightly sweet taste, and it's name that gets my nostalgia and love for Indiana going. That would be the Wabash Cannonball.
Judy debuted this little 3-ounce boule dusted with ash and a white mold rind in 1992, and just a few years later, in 1995, it won Best-of-Show from the American Cheese Society. It’s garnered more and more attention as the years have gone by. (“People still love it—and we love it,” Judy beams.) The name is a little play on words since boule means ball in French. (I find it not merely coincidence, though, that it's also the name of a famous folk song about a train, as well as an actual Amtrak train that runs in the Midwest.)
Because of how it’s made and the rind that it sports, a Wabash Cannonball is a fragile cheese. “The rind mold is much more delicate than what you might see on Brie or Humboldt Fog,” Judy explains. “The cheese is small so the rind ripens very quickly.” Because of its delicate nature, she suggests to store it in paper or a sealed container rather than plastic.
Funny enough, Judy didn't begin distributing the cheese across Indiana and then grow outward—the process was the complete opposite. Growing up in rural Indiana in the 1990s, I never once saw Capriole in our local supermarket, even though it was made just a few hours away. They needed a much wider market to survive, as American artisan cheeses were just coming onto the market: Judy introduced her cheeses in Chicago in 1988, then went out to the Eastern Seaboard, and then to the West. Finally, in the 2000s, she brought things back home. "Indiana was last on the block!" she exclaims.
New York is familiar with these little boules: Jessey LaShier, cheese and charcuterie buyer at Stinky Brooklyn, told me that the cheese is a staff and customer favorite. “We love Wabash Cannonballs, and everything made at Capriole, here at Stinky, and have been selling them since 2010,” says Jessey.
She adds that it’s been just in the last year or so that people are coming in specifically for them, outside of their usual fans. Her recommendation? Serve it alongside fresh, juicy red fruits, like cherries, raspberries, or strawberries, and wash it down with a slightly sweet saison (she recommends Trinity Brewing's One Ear Saison).
Ask for Capriole's Wabash Cannonballs, as well as their other divine goat cheeses, at your local cheese shop. If they don't stock them, you can order them online here.
Do you have a cheese you pine for on the regular? Tell me in the comments below so I can seek it out, too.