From PhD to Goat Cheese: A Conversation with Judy Schad of Capriole Goat Cheeses

Judy Schad, photo courtesy of www.cheeseconnoisseur.com

Along with luminaries Allison Hooper (Vermont Creamery) and Mary Keehn (Cypress Grove), Judy Schad is regarded as one of the first people to popularize artisan goat cheese, and farmhouse cheese more generally, in America. Rather than finding her inspiration in France, however, this mother of three and former PhD candidate found it in Indiana, when she tried goat cheese for the first time. Judy and her family left the city for an 80 acre family farm in the hills of Indiana. Then came goats, and naturally, Capriole Goat Cheeses followed.

To celebrate the return of Capriole to Murray’s, we sat down with Judy and had a wide-ranging conversation. From her decision to leave the city behind and her inspiration for making cheese, to her current favorite goats and her one message to the nation of cheese-lovers, there’s no better way to celebrate National Cheese Day than reading the words of one of the Founding Mothers of American artisan cheese making!

Murrays: You are one of the founding mothers of modern American artisan cheese making. This is the first time in many years that Murray’s has had a chance to sell your lovely cheeses in New York, and as such, we thought it fitting to feature you, your cheese and your story on National Cheese Day!

Judy Schad: So glad to be back at Murray’s. You were among our very first customers in the early 90s and the shop was tiny but splendid even then! As it’s grown it’s really a reflection of the evolution or American cheese in general

When did you first know that you wanted to be a cheese maker? What inspired you? Where did you learn to make cheese? What were you doing before cheese? (Sorry, we’re excited, can’t you tell?)

We had a lovely home just across the Ohio River from Louisville. My husband was a judge and attorney in New Albany, IN and we had 3 small children aged 3-7. I was working on a PhD in English at University of Louisville, cooking my way through Time/Life Foods of the World and Julia Child, and gardening like a mad woman. But I wanted every crazy city woman’s dream of a farm; I had no idea. We did find an 80 acre farm in the hills above the river and later found it had belonged to my husband’s great, great grandfather in the 1850s. A few goats, too much milk that my city kids refused to drink, and then I ate my first goat cheese from the Kilmoyers at Westfield Farm. I was in love with this lovely stuff and went to Hubbardston to work for a week with Letty and Bob [Kilmoyers). That was it for me, with a little instruction from Ricki Carrol’s book “Cheesemaking Made Easy’. There was no France, or short courses for us then, but we quickly got to know each other—Mary Keehn at a goat show in 1983 and Allison Hooper, Paula Lambert, and Chantal Plasse at food shows and conferences. This was how we learned and inspired each other.

Why goats? How did you end up making goat cheese?

Goats were the perfect farm animal for city folks pretending to be farmers—I could love them like dogs and cats, be totally entertained by their crazy, loving personalities, and not get hurt if they stepped on me. What do you do when you have bushels of cucumbers? Pickles. Too much goat milk? Cheese. This is just farm cooking. There is no EVO within 20 miles & ‘putting food by’ was just part of the whole picture

Capriole Piper’s Pyramide

What are some of your favorite memories from the early days of Capriole?

There were some lovely ones—taking the ‘girls’ (goats) for long walks in the woods, picking morels in the spring, planting 2 acres of beautiful flower gardens. Love my garden. Years of wonderful and not-so-wonderful international interns. Many funny ones as well: growing ½ acre of black eyed peas that were totally eaten overnight by bean beetles; a ridiculous photo shoot for People magazine where I refused to wear a ratty crown and red velvet robe and sit on a bale of hay. There have been far more to laugh at than get wet-eyed about. Farms are generally a humbling experience. More about what you don’t know than what you do.

The cheese industry today very much feels like an international community.  Can you talk a bit about how you have seen that community grow and evolve?

I totally agree, and in retrospect while there was just a handful of us initially in the US, even then it was international. Just a few years after we began—this is our 30th anniversary– the goats and the cheese introduced me to wonderful people and places. Roberto Rubino and Cinzia Scaffidi in Italy. Randolph Hodgson, Juliet Harbutt, Mary Holbrook and so many more in England, and Jeffa Gill in Ireland. Pascal Joaquin, the Carles family, Chantal Plasse in France. I was and am so lucky and so inspired by them. Of course the community was happening simultaneously in all those places. Neal’s Yard was aging just a handful of traditional cheeses and opened the door for so many more. Even in the early 90s in France there were many small cheesemakers—teachers and professionals starting their own productions. We did our first Slow Cheese in 2004 and that led to a friendship with Cinzia Scaffidi who organized it and the first Terra Madre. I attribute a lot of that international community to Slow Food who really brought us together every other year in Bra. And to ACS for creating a national one.

What do you love most about your day job?

I love my cheesemakers, the Capriole team and how much better they have made the cheeses. I may have come up with the names and recipes, but they have made them good. I love that we’re still small enough to know our customers personally and choose who best handles the cheeses. The ripened ones really require fromagers in the true sense of the word. You can’t just throw them in a coffin case unless you want to watch them die! The excitement of tasting a perfect Wabash Cannonball, Mont St. Francis, or any of our cheeses, never leaves me.

Capriole Mount St. Francis

What are some of the struggles of being a farmstead cheese maker?

For goat cheesemakers in particular it was the lack of established knowledge and practice of both animal husbandry and the cheeses themselves. When we began there were so few commercial goat herds that just finding the right animals, then building the genetics and sound management practices for goats was in every way a challenge. Considering that it take 8 times the labor to get the same amount of milk as it does from a good cow, goat keeping, milking, and labor in general can be incredibly inefficient without a well-designed facility for moving animals. As for the cheesemaking, Allison Hooper and I have often talked about how much everything we did was experimental and how waste was for a very long time, directly proportionate to production. The more we grew, the more we threw away, at least in the first 10 years. We sold our herd 6 years ago and our cheese is so very much better than it was. The animals took an unbelievable amount of time and energy that’s now devoted to cheese.

If you could speak to all of the nation on National Cheese Day, what would your message for them be?

Probably that cheese, at its best, is simply a perfect food. You don’t have to do anything to it or with it – except not ruin it. Rely on a good cheesemonger to direct you and taste, it’s all about the taste, not the romance,

Do you have a current favorite goat?

I only have a few retired girls who worked hard and now live the easy life. Some are over 15 years old.

What aspect of your job do you think people would be most surprised to learn?

That cheese is just cooking, and like all cooking it can be mysterious and surprising and an adventure. And maybe, that my best customer has always been myself

Who inspires you to grow and evolve?

All of you—from the friends and the community of cheesemakers that helped each other to an exciting generation of cheesemongers and customers that truly love and know cheese.

What values do you believe in most as a cheese maker?

Make what you love and make it personal. I can’t offer what I don’t love. It’s like sending your children to school in dirty clothes!

Do you have a favorite cheese?

I want complexity in cheese, it doesn’t have to hit me over the head with flavor, but I want a beginning, middle, and end. I taste everything everywhere, especially when someone tells me it’s bad. So I certainly have ‘worst’ cheeses.

Want to try some of Judy’s delicious and award winning cheese? Right this way.

The Murray’s Father’s Day Gift Guide

I would like to tell you a Father’s Day story. It’s not long, but it takes place a long time ago, when I was a child and, being a child, knew absolutely nothing. Also, being a long time ago, CD-ROMs still existed, as did Circuit City, where you could go to buy them. Like literally every person alive in the early 90s, I went to Circuit City every day, sometimes twice.

One day, while looking at, I don’t know, cables or something, I had a thought. The thought was that Father’s Day was coming up. So I said, “Later cables; I’m going to get my ROM on,” and then fingerboarded over to the computer games section. Which game caught my eye? The one with yellow X’s and O’s and arrows, and some burly football men. It was a coaching strategy game, the name of which I don’t remember, but it was something like, “You Be the Coach!” or “It’s Football Coaching Time,” or “Super Coach Super Bowl.” Football fan he was, my father would love this computer game. I knew it. So I used my pogs to buy it.

My father did not love the game. Why? Because he didn’t play computer games. How could I be so wrong? Because I was a child. But my father did love me, and so he appeared very excited about the gift and told me he loved it. Then he made brunch, challah French toast that was filled on the inside with a blueberry compote cream cheese that he made that morning. “Oh,” I thought, my dad likes to cook. Next time, I’ll get him a food-related gift. And that was the first thing I ever learned in my life.

Reader, if you happen to be a child, I encourage you to learn from my childhood faux pas. What might the father in your life want on his Day? To give you some ideas, we put together a Father’s Day Gift Guide. Here are some of the hits:

Late Night Snack Collection

We’ve all been there – it’s hours past dinner, and you find yourself staring blankly into the fridge, with no idea what you are craving. Or maybe you’re about to sit on the couch and catch up on your favorite movie, and you want to mindlessly nosh. Whatever your excuse is – we’ve got you covered, with the Late Night Snack.  This collection spans all tastes – a meaty, wine soaked cheese from Italy, a spicy sausage, chocolates, nuts, dried figs and salty crackers. We encourage you to enjoy these treats – standing up at the kitchen counter in your pajamas.

Cocktail Hour Staples Collection

Gin or vodka martini – who can say which is better? But at Murray’s, we say it pairs best with Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives. For the bar cart connoisseur, this is the perfect gift. We’ve included the perfect accompaniments to make your cocktails sing. Just bring the spirit of choice – it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!

Ultimate Griller Collection

Celebrate the start of summer by firing up the grill and digging into our Ultimate Griller Collection! Dad will love this perfect package of sausages and
cheesy accompaniments, just what the family needs to kickstart the summer BBQ season. Your backyard barbecue just got an upgrade.

Artifact Culinary Denim Apron

Dad’s grill game is top notch—he doesn’t mess around. He needs an apron to match. Well, here it is. Artifact’s denim apron is as sturdy as it is sleek, with khaki cotton crossback ties that keep is from shifting or coming undone. Its pair of conveniently positioned pockets are properly deep, so pops can keep the tools he needs secure and accessible. This is an apron that’s worthy of a true grillmaster.

Be Home Onyx Cocktail Shaker With Wood Top

This stainless steel cocktail shaker is an absolute jewel. The acacia wooden topper provides a sleek contrast to onyx’s deep, slate gray color, and the perforated mouth that it covers up makes for easy pouring. Shake up your cocktail game with a touch of class, and test out one of Murray’s exclusive Great Taste cocktail recipes.

There’s plenty more good stuff on the gift guide, and you can scroll through it to your heart’s content. What’s the modern equivalent of a CD-ROM? An Angry Bird? I don’t know. But the point is:  Don’t get that thing. Lead with food; I’ve learned from experience that it’s the way to go, and I live to make sure you give the best gift possible. It’s what I live for.

Dorothy’s Cheese is Now at Murray’s

On Monday, May 7th, over 150 people gathered at Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker Street to celebrate the launch of Dorothy’s cheese in NYC. Guests sampled both types of Dorothy’s Cheese, Comeback Cow and Keep Dreaming, both flower-shaped, brie-style cheeses with notes of butter and a creamy texture. In addition to these flower-shaped beauties, other Savencia cheeses were also sampled, including Severac, Montagnard, and Maroilles.

The fun didn’t stop there—after nibbling on cheese and sipping wine, guests we also able to build their own flower bouquets at a DIY station, filled with gorgeous seasonal flowers. Every guest left with their tummies full and a gorgeous bouquet to brighten up their home.

Bien Cuit: Murray’s Exclusive Partner Bakery

Listening to Zachary Golper talk about baking is like listening to an anthropologist talk about the nano-differences within a region the rest of us might see as monolithic. Golper has baked in many of the world’s leading kitchens, from Vegas to Philadelphia to France to Brooklyn, where he is now the mastermind behind Bien Cuit bakery. Each time he’s relocated, he’s recalibrated his recipes, because he’s so finely attuned to his craft that a simple difference in the water composition will alter the outcome of his product. “Local flour, local water: these are not just buzzwords. They have a very real, biological effect on your dough.” He discovered this firsthand when he couldn’t get his sourdoughs to pass muster in Las Vegas. But when he altered the pH of his starter to match the pH of the local water levels, he says, “my sourdoughs just took off.”

That’s the level of mastery and hyper-granularity Golper operates at. No wonder he’s been nominated for a James Beard Award on three separate occasions. And no wonder Bien Cuit has attracted a loyal following across New York City, as well as accolades from all the most renowned authorities on food. Zach has been twice profiled by the New York Times, taught Ina Garten how to make what she calls a “legendary French baguette,” and developed a baker’s guide for Lucky Peach. Bien Cuit is counted by Saveur as home to the “best American bread,” by Bon Appetit as having one of the ten best baguettes in America, and by Tasting Table as makers of one of the ten best breads in NYC. Point is, Golper can bake with the best of them.

And that is why we are especially excited to bring Bien Cuit’s baked goods beyond New York City limits for the very first time. We’ve partnered with the bakery to home deliver a selection of their cookies, pound cakes, brownies, and bread anywhere in the country.

Bien Cuit’s ethos is to be the modern day equivalent of those old world bakeries that served as communal meeting places, the de facto centers of their villages. Zach & Co. have so successfully carried out this mission in New York that we are excited to help expand the reaches of their proverbial village. We teamed up with Bien Cuit to curate a selection of their products with a mind for integrity and taste. Everything we carry has been tested to taste just as good upon delivery as it does in the bakery itself. We’ll be partnering with Bien Cuit for just a couple more weeks, so be sure to pick up some of their critically-acclaimed baked goods while you can.

Because he’s that kind of a guy, Zach also developed a Murray’s-exclusive dish for our Great Taste line of recipes. It’s a fennel custard tart that’s topped with shallot jam, Reading cheese, and asparagus.

To say it’s excellent would be an understatement. More appropriate would be to say it’s the ideal dish for a springtime brunch: fresh and flakey and hearty and heavenly. Next time you’re looking to up your brunch game, give this recipe a go.

Cheese Towers: Monuments of Glory

You know cheesecake. It’s the stuff that looks like this:

Or sometimes this:

And technically—though hopefully never actually—like this:

But give your cheesecake some space. Actually, give it one space, and put it right between the syllables. What do you have now? Cheese cake. What would that look like?

Friend, feast your incredible eyes:

What you see before you are Murray’s Cheese Towers. Yes, those are milky monuments of majesterial magnificence. Colossuses of Coagulated Curds. Architectural feats of dairying-do. And they are as striking as they are delicious.

We have a whole buncha different cheese towers. The ones above are called Celebration in Bloom, the All-American, and the Festive. If you want to take a look at our entire (sky)line of cheese towers, here’s the scenic overlook on our website.

How do these towers work? It’s quite simple. You order the tower, we deliver it right to your door, your build it up and adorn it however you so choose. And then, whether celebrating a wedding, a graduation, a bridal shower, a baby shower, the installation of a new stop sign at an intersection where the yield was insufficient so you decided to take the issue to the city council and after months of petitioning finally got enough support to improve your community in a small but essential way, or a company party, everyone can wedge on in and chow down.

While the towers above are multi-story behemoths, we also carry plenty of more manageable, individual home-sized options. Mini towers, we call them. And we just released a few more. Here’s a look at a couple of them:

Eden’s Leaves

Be-leave us, this is a tower you want to get your hands on. Its petal-powered base is piney and floral, leading up to a garden-fresh middle layer and a creamy, wrinkle-rinded top. As the rind on the top wheel suggests, those who go for this tower have quite a brain.

Hudson Jewel

This tower is more like a castle, so full it is of precious jewels. There’s a citrusy Spanish base, a flower powered second level, a creamy and pillowy upper deck, and wrinkle-rinded top. It’s a rustic-looking monument that tastes like royalty.

Mini towers are ideal for a smaller crowd, anywhere between 10 and 20 people. Think dinner party, birthday, holiday gatherings. Or you can get ambitious and use a bunch of towers to build yourself a little cheesy village. When word gets out of all the cheese you’ve piled up. you’ll be the most popular person in your real-world neighborhood, guaranteed.