I’ve known about the Wabash Cannonball since I was a child in the South and the Midwest. However, it was the fictional railroad that country singer Roy Acuff made famous in the 1930s (although folklore of the train dates back to the late 1800s… how’s that for a useless piece of trivia?).
As I became more and more immersed in the world of cheese, I started hearing about another Wabash Cannonball, an award-winning goat cheese made in Indiana by legendary cheesemaker, Judy Schad, owner of Capriole Goat Cheeses. And although this Wabash Cannonball might have been surrounded by “cheese lore”; it was far from fictitious.
At the American Cheese Society’s “Meet the Cheesemaker” event in Sacramento last month, I finally had the opportunity to taste it… living in the Pacific Northwest made it difficult to find… the week before the conference, I had seen Wabash Cannonball at Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes when my sister-in-law Susie (who knows everyone) and I made a day of visiting cheese shops. Instead of buying it I chose Cowgirl’s Inverness, reasoning that I might never be back at Point Reyes Station’s CGC and Inverness is only available there and only on Saturdays…
I bet WC would be at the ACS Conference and I got lucky… Before I continue with my review, I have a few editorial comments, which are loosely tied to the review… admittedly only loosely:
I never cease to be amazed at the narrow-mindedness of some Europeans, hopefully few and fewer with time, when it comes to America Artisan Cheeses. Granted, some commercial cheese producers seriously damaged our cheese cred back in the day with the creation of processed cheese (in defense of JL Kraft and others, Velveeta, American Slices and other processed cheeses** were created at the request of the US Government, wanting a shelf-stable “cheese” to feed the troops… one more time, the government got involved and screwed up something good… “screwed up” is not the word I’m thinking).
We’ve come along way since those days particularly since the late 1970s and in great part due to cheesemakers like Judy. But, back to those certain narrow-minded Europeans…
Recently I was opening a cheese shop when a manager from a different department in the store approached me and told me I was wasting my time because American cheeses would never live up to European cheeses and even the “European cheeses” we sold weren’t “the real thing”. Turns out, he grew-up in one of those… yep… European countries where some of the citizenry think only their cheesemakers make “real” cheese. I explained to him that American Artisan Cheese was far beyond his myopic beliefs. I even explained the EU protections of cheese and other traditional foods. I related the conversation to the shop’s Cheesemaster and challenged her to change his mind… editorial comments concluded…
Back in the late 70s an American Revolution was taking place. I had just started dating The Man and had no idea that 35+ years later I would be writing about it. A few women were beginning to make incredible cheeses, with all due respect to the men also making great cheese. Judy was a member of this revolution; in fact she was on the front line with other women I have come to know and respect: Mary Keehn, Laura Chenel, Allison Hooper, Sally Jackson and many more.
In 1976, with her husband, Judy moved the family from Louisville north into the farmlands of Indiana where she began raising goats and making cheese. And not just cheese, but great cheese.
From Capriole’s website, here is how Judy describes her cheeses: “We make our cheese through observation and, always, through the vehicle of taste. Without taste, the rest is trivial. We ate as much cheese–good and bad—as we could and learned the nuances that make the difference. Building a creamery a few steps from our home was a natural extension of the kitchen. Over the years the genetics of our closed herd, the browse from our fields and woodland paddocks, the style of our own cheesemaking have all contributed to the special profile of Capriole cheeses. We have, in this place, created our own little terroir. The catchwords “sustainable”, “natural,” “humane animal care”, “free-farmed”, and “artisan” were the realities on which we began our farm. The end result is a cheese that is distinctively ours–not just in appearance but in the more relevant criterion of taste.”
In 1992 she created one of her American Originals, Wabash Cannonball, and her efforts were rewarded in 1995, when WC won the ACS Competition’s Best of Show.
I waited a long time to taste this cheese and it was worth the wait… Wabash Cannonball is a surface-ripened cheese dusted with vegetable ash to encourages the growth of the geotricum candidum rind. The ash also adds to the beauty of the cheese.
The taste I enjoyed was creamy and light with notes of lemon and a bit of allspice. The distinct goat tang was there, in a pleasant way… that tang I have come to love as my cheese journey continues. WC is made in these delightful 3 ounce balls, large enough to enjoy by yourself or if you are a better person than I, large enough to also share.
Serving Suggestions: On a cheese plate; paired with fig spread.
Wine Pairing: I would pair WC with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
I give Wabash Cannonball 4 Paws out of 4 Paws (cause that’s all Spaulding had…)
** Read my interview with Cabot Creamery’s Craig Gile and his thoughts on why processed cheese is good for the Artisan Cheesemaker.
My thanks to Judy and Christine Hyatt of Cheese Chick Productions for use of their photograph of Wabash Cannonball.