This past week, while holed up in my New York City apartment trying to avoid the never-ending wintry weather, I started daydreaming about cheeses I’ve been missing recently – cheeses I need to taste again. After pining away for pungent blues, luscious triple-creams and sharp, buttery cheddars, I finally ventured out into the bitter cold and ending up at Beecher’s, staring at a cheese from Indiana’s Capriole Dairy that happened to be at the top of my “most-missed” list: the O’Banon.
I have always loved Judy Schad’s cheeses. Judy is the owner and head cheesemaker at Capriole, and while she’s made many types of cheese over the years, I am most fond of the small-format, handmade goat cheeses she has created at her current dairy. The surface-ripened Crocodile Tears and Wabash Cannonball are the most well known of Capriole’s offerings, but my top pick is the fresh goat’s milk O’Banon. It is a two-week-old disc of cheese wrapped in a chestnut leaf that has been soaked in Woodford Reserve high-proof bourbon. Kentucky bourbon-soaked cheese? As a Southerner, this one is naturally my personal favorite.
If the bourbon-soaked feature isn’t enough to inspire you to try the O’Banon, the striking aesthetic and the taste of the cheese certainly will. When unfolding the chestnut leaves, the cheese emits a smell of sweet spirits, and the leaves form a beautiful set of petals around the disc. The flavor includes hints of sweetness, mushrooms and earthy notes, and isn’t too “goaty.” The discs are at their peak at two months of age, when they have achieved a delectable level of creaminess. The taste of a perfectly aged O’Banon is comforting and satisfying by itself, or it can be paired with a peaty Scotch, such as the Laphroaig 10-year single malt. This warming combination certainly takes the edge off a long, cold winter’s day.
I once asked Judy what it is that makes this particular cheese so unique. Her answer: just a bunch of crazy hillbillies willing to spend $12,000 a year on chestnut leaves, take the time to clean them, trim them to size, dip them in bourbon and then wait six months to wrap them around a wee disc of cheese. It’s definitely a crazy process, but one that – to my mind – more than pays off.
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.