Partners in Cheese
Goat farmers of Tuckhill Farm keep Capriole well supplied
Farming is in Tim and Karmen Clark’s genes. The pair, who own Goshen’s Tuckhill Farm, grew up on or near family dairy farms and worked on a dairy farm in Middlebury, IN, when they were first married. They were comfortable with cows.
After their first child was born with Down syndrome, the Clarks discovered he had a sensitive stomach that didn’t tolerate cow’s milk. So they experimented. They bought three goats for milking and kept them in their backyard. Their son Tyler thrived on the goat’s milk. The goats began to multiply, and people started asking the Clarks for goat’s milk. When their backyard herd numbered 27, the Clarks had a decision to make.
Developing a goat dairy
Tim and Karmen decided to go commercial in the late 1990s, starting a goat’s milk dairy on a rented farm in Middlebury, where they milked between 100 and 120 goats. When they bought Tuckhill Farm in Goshen in the fall of 2001, their herd expanded and so did their family. The Clarks have raised four children on the farm. The two youngest, daughters Tessa and Tarynn, are high school students and basketball and volleyball players. Their second son, Tristan, is in college, and the oldest, Tyler, is a regular helper on the farm.
“The kids really got involved with the farm work after our barn fire in 2008,” Karmen says. The fire destroyed the milking area, and after it was rebuilt “the boys did the feeding and watering, and the girls helped with the milking.”
During their first decade on the farm, the Clarks sold their milk as part of a group of independent producers going through a marketer. Judy Schad, owner of southern Indiana’s award-winning Capriole Cheese, started buying from the group to supplement milk from her own herd.
In 2012, the Clarks learned that Judy was interested in selling her entire herd of Alpine goats to a farmer who would in turn sell the milk directly back to her. Though Judy had been farming goats since the 1970s, Capriole’s need for quality milk continued to increase and the need to produce it all on the farm proved too labor-intensive for her small family operation.
“Running a small, high-quality cheesemaking business and managing a herd are two separate types of work,” Judy says. For years her husband, Larry, a full-time attorney, helped to milk the goats before and after his day at the law office. When it grew to be more of a chore than a fun diversion, the Schads began hiring interns to help and enjoyed the friendships they made. One of their specialty cheeses, Juliana, is named after an intern.
Finally, the cheese business outgrew the Schads’ milk-producing capacity. Judy wanted to devote her energy full-time to Capriole Cheese while still having access to the consistently high quality of goat’s milk she had produced with her own herd. After the Clarks learned about Judy’s interest in making a sale, they stopped to visit her in southern Indiana on a rare family vacation. They discovered that their needs and interests were compatible.
A partnership is born
In the Clarks, Judy found not only a reflection of her values as a small-scale farmer, but the goat-raising experience she desired for her herd’s next owners. Judy’s plan to purchase milk directly from the farmer worked well for the Clarks, who could sell directly to Judy for a higher price than when a milk broker was involved. Tuckhill Farm has now become the major supplier of goat’s milk for Capriole.
The relationship between Tuckhill Farm and Capriole is mutually beneficial, but because of the nature of the work, it is not without its challenges. One of the biggest is the seasonal nature of goat farming: Goats produce more milk in spring and summer and less in winter, and it varies in quality depending on the season and on the goats’ diet.
“Goats don’t graze like other dairy animals. They are browsers, who, when left to their own devices, are as likely to chew on fence posts or trees as on more nourishing greens,” Tim explained. Although the Clarks’ goats have free access to the outdoors, feeding times and rituals are important for Tuckhill’s goats. Like cows, goats are milked twice a day, and milking time is feeding time.
“You will hear the goats,” Karmen told me as we entered the barn, “because it’s almost milking time.” Indeed, they had all gathered in a holding area, in a variety of pens, and looked up at us, bleating expectantly.
Over time, Tuckhill Farm has increased its ability to produce a consistent quality of milk for the types of cheeses Capriole makes. Currently their 1,400 goats include around 450 milkers out of a total of 550 adult goats. The herd includes six different dairy breeds: Alpine goats from Judy, as well as LaMancha, Saanen, Toggenberg, Oberhasli and Nubian.
“The quality of the milk is what makes a good goat cheese,” Judy says. “Beyond that, it is time, experience and craft.” However, Capriole can handle only so much milk in its operation at any given time, and Judy is not a milk broker, so there is the ongoing challenge of managing supply and demand.
Goats in Indiana
“There has never been a market for goat’s milk in Indiana,” Judy says, which is what inspired her to start making goat cheese in the first place from the few goats she started raising on her Greenville, IN, farm in the 1970s. She and her husband raised their three children on a farm. Judy remembers she was interested in the “back to the land” concept before sustainability became a buzzword. She had originally wanted to add a cow to her farm projects, but her neighbors talked her into a goat instead. She fell in love with the animals.
According to Tim Clark, that’s not hard to do. Like humans, goats have distinct personalities, he says. Goats are curious, friendly and playful, and may nibble at you. “One half-grown goat even lifted a checkbook out of the jacket pocket of a goat buyer," he says. Goats are animals with a personality, he says, and if you develop a fondness for them, they might just change your life.
With so many goats on her hands, Judy soon found she was getting more milk than she knew what to do with—but then, there was no market for goat’s milk in Indiana. Circumstances were right for starting a goat cheese operation.
In the early 1980s, Judy took a cheesemaking class with Ricki Carroll of New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. at a goat conference and experimented with making goat cheese at home. Judy kept at it, and after four or five years she realized that she had developed something special. When she’d perfected the technique, she began to think about marketing the cheese, but didn’t know where to start. In fact, it was difficult to market the cheese locally, because people had not yet developed a taste for goat cheese. She did a demonstration at Atlas Market in Indianapolis but had trouble getting people to taste it.
Due to Judy’s pioneering efforts, all of this was about to change. A turning point occurred when Huber Orchard, Winery and Vineyards in Starlight, IN, asked her to give a cheesemaking demonstration at one of their events. After this positive exposure to an appreciative public, the Schads built a small cheese plant on their farm, which is still in use, and went commercial in 1988.
Another breakthrough was entering the “Best of the Midwest” Food Show in Chicago. Going to Chicago brought Capriole to the attention of distributors in Wisconsin and Michigan, extending their reach and strengthening their Indiana market.
During the early 1990s, Capriole worked hard to develop new recipes to make their cheese stand out from those marketed by large-scale importers. For instance, they explored making aged goat cheese, something that no one else in the area was doing. Capriole’s Old Kentucky Tomme, Juliana and Mount St. Francis are among these recipes, which they still sell today. Capriole’s signature fresh goat cheese, O’Banon, named for the former governor of Indiana and a close friend, is Judy’s variation on a French Banon, wrapped in bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves. O’Banon took first place in the American Cheese Society Awards in 2014, the fifth award this cheese has won from the society since 2001. Judy’s surface-ripened cheese, Sofia, also took a first-place award at the ACS in 2014. “We win awards on our cheeses every year,” Judy says, “the most prestigious being a Best of Show in the American Cheese Society for Wabash Cannonball,” another of her surface-ripened cheeses, and a personal favorite. “We’ve also won international awards in Italy.”
She has succeeded, and was honored with the title maître fromager, the highest ranking from the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers. Her cheeses are known internationally and she is a frequent traveler to cheesemaking events. Judy has also succeeded in developing a market for goat cheese in her home region: Indiana, Chicago and Kentucky are Capriole’s largest markets.
The relationship with Tuckhill Farm has enabled Capriole to grow enough that they no longer sell at farmers markets; most of their sales are done through their website.
My first taste of Capriole’s O’Banon was at The Wedge, a new artisanal cheese shop opened in Goshen last fall by Rachel Shenk, proprietor of Rachel’s Bread, who carries four of Capriole’s cheeses. With Tuckhill Farm supplying milk to Capriole, I like to think that artisanal cheese is bringing the northern and southern parts of Indiana together into one cheese-loving family, helping to strengthen Indiana’s position on the culinary map.
The Capriole family
Running a cheese business and managing a herd, though separate types of work, both require intensive, ongoing collaboration with a reliable team. Judy speaks of her “Capriole family,” and notes that both cheesemaking and goat farming are enterprises that attract people who are looking for a certain type of lifestyle. For instance, her shipping and customer relations manager was a former attorney. Now her relationship with the Clarks has extended her Capriole family: She provides a market for their goat’s milk, and they deliver a steady supply of goat’s milk that meets her high-quality standards.
Tim Clark says that he feels satisfaction in being one of the few goat’s milk producers in northern Indiana, and his partnership with Capriole has enabled him to continue to develop and fine-tune his dairy to meet Judy’s exacting standards. He knows what it takes to produce high-quality goat’s milk: “good-quality feed, healthy animals, a clean environment for the animals and high-quality milking equipment.”
As I sat with the Clarks at their dining room table, their daughters came home from basketball and joined us at the table. At Karmen’s request, they brought out a box of Capriole’s delectable cheese, a gift from Judy. We ate and talked and ate some more. I asked the girls about what it was like growing up on the farm. They told me about chores and helping out, but also about playing basketball on summer nights till dark, riding four-wheelers and working on their 4-H projects.
“It teaches you to work,” Tessa says. Tarynn agreed. “My friends complain about having to load the dishwasher.”
Capriole Inc. Goat Cheeses
10329 New Cut Rd.
13878 County Rd. 38