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June Wine & Cheese Pairing

Cada Dia Raw Double Cream Feta and Agate Ridge 2012 Pinot Gris

Blind date blossoms into summer romance!

Josh says:

Like many of Oregon’s artisan cheese producers, Cada Dia Cheese is a small family-owned operation that uses the best practices to create high quality farmstead cheese; but, there is something special about Cada Dia, it’s the cheese!

Proud owners Pat and Cher Sullivan make unique and incomparable cheeses outside of Prineville where their herd grazes, the cows are milked, and the cheeses are made and aged all right on their farm. The quality control starts in the pastures, where their twenty cows enjoy sixty acres of natural Central Oregon grassland. The herd is milked once a day and only during the season from April to November, following the cows’ natural yearly cycle. Making cheese seasonally ensures milk from only grass-fed cows that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and beta-carotene. The warm raw milk is taken immediately to the kettles without being cooled so the cheese-making process can begin and the nutrients and flavor are retained. The finished cheeses are aged to intensify and develop wonderful flavor and are delivered by courier to restaurants, farmers’ markets, and cheese shops across the state.

The Kiva proudly sells Cada Dia Cheese raw aged cheddar with chives and raw double-cream feta, both of which are true treasures of Oregon’s growing artisanal cheese industry. The richness and quality of these cheeses is evident at first glance when the gold-cream color stands out enticingly. The Cada Dia herd consists of only Jersey cows, whose milk is higher in fat and protein content than that of other breeds and is recognizable by its glorious hue.

And then you taste it! For instance, take a bite of the raw double-cream feta and you experience a cheese that is firm to the tooth but crumbles in your mouth letting loose a deluge of flavors as it dissolves. This unique textural experience makes you feel you are tasting each individual precious curd as it sings away in your mouth. The flavor is bold and concentrated, yet clean–close your eyes and picture yourself in the fresh pastures, running your fingers through the blades of grass. Finally the lingering richness of the added cream reminds you that life can really be this good!

Josh adds that “the wine beautifully balances the sharp salty bite of the feta.

Ziggy says:

Josh gave me a taste of the amazing Cada Dia feta, and, while I was blown away by the flavor of the cheese, it posed quite a challenge for a pairing.

Cada Dia Feta isn’t something to toss into a Greek salad (though I’m sure there are great salad applications!).  It’s crazy rich–buttery; crumbly, yet more soft than dry; bursting with complicated flavors that deserve the spotlight.  My first impression was of its saltiness, and of tang with some sweetness to it.  It opens up like a movie for the palate, traveling smoothly from flavor to flavor.  As the “flavor scenery” rolled past I jotted down savory, acidic, buttery, herbal, animal–ending with a burst of umami that made me want another taste right away.

I started searching my memory for some assertive yet gentle Italian wine–I was thinking robust red, and I still think the right kind of elegant, not-too-fruity red (including some good Oregon Pinot Noirs) might also pair equally well with this special cheese.

But serendipity happened!

Ashley, our representative from Agate Ridge Vineyards, came in just minutes after my first taste of feta to show me some samples of their current line and some new vintages.  Agate Ridge, located in Eagle Point, Oregon (north of Medford) offers a variety of lovely wines, from a big lush Primitivo to a rich but reserved Roussane.  Southern Oregon wines are typically riper and more robust than their chillier Willamette Valley cousins, and Agate Ridge wines are no exception; but their core minerality (bequeathed to the grapes by the agate-rich soil of the vineyard) and adept vinification keep them from being California wanna-be’s.

One of the wines in Ashley’s bag was the recently-released 2012 Pinot Gris, and it struck me as soon as I tasted it that it might make beautiful music with Cada Dia Feta, so I set up a blind date between the cheese and the wine.

The Agate Ridge 2012 Pinot Gris has a lovely nose with a coppery note and scents of herbal smoke, wet stone, and resin.  Its bright, almost brash acid is balanced by a smooth, creamy mouthfeel with nice viscosity.  We tasted lemon zest, a hint of bitter herbs, tropical fruits, all underscored with an authoritative edge of minerality.

The flavors are very ripe and surprisingly European in character, more forward than some of the delicate Pinot Gris’ from the Willamette Valley.  That its alcohol content of 14.1% was a surprise speaks to its smoothness and grace, and I also thought I detected a hint of saline–not necessarily salt, but a mineral note reminiscent of salt–which made it an especially apt companion for the feta.

Together–the acidic quality of the cheese and wine complement each other: wine cleanses the palate and keeps the cheese from cloying so that each bite is a fresh experience.  The minerality of the wine complements the saltiness of the cheese. This effect worked both ways, the melting earthy flavors of the cheese making the vibrant ripe fruit of the wine a new experience with each sip.   This was a great pairing–the flavors of the wine and cheese worked to bring out the best in each other.

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