Making cheese is a journey and Cher and Pat Sullivan have adventure in their blood. Born and raised in Virginia, the two met as children and have spent their lives together roaming the planet. Oregon has become the latest home of the Sullivans and the state’s artisan food movement has made them feel right at home. Moving their cheese business from New Mexico, Cher and Pat launched Cada Dia Cheese in 2007, setting up shop in the heart of the state on the eastern side of the Cascade Range, in the small town of Prineville. Cher has a big personality and it wasn’t long before she was known across Oregon as the ‘Dairy Queen’, in no small part thanks to her crown she proudly wears. “I bought it for a quarter and it’s held together with gorilla glue and duct tape. That’s how I greet my customers when I’m on the road and when we have visitors at the farm. We just love having people come and see us.”
Pat’s career as an engineer ended when Cher found twenty acres of irrigated land in New Mexico. “Pat’s work took him around the world but he wanted to spend more time with our two daughters. We’ve never led the conventional life so once grass was growing on the farm, then we needed a cow to cut the grass, we had all this milk… we soon started to figure out cheese making.” One day Cher was picking raspberries with a young Mexican girl in the orchard and she asked her to teach her some Spanish. “The girl smiled at me and said, ‘Cada dia’, which means ‘every day’. Well, that’s what we do, we make cheese every day, so the name stuck and we took the name with us when we eventually ended up in Oregon.”
The wanderlust family was soon on another adventure, only this time looking for a dream farm in Argentina. They didn’t find the property they were looking for. “We had a fabulous time with the girls but we never got what we were looking for. After a year we headed back and started looking in America. There just wasn’t the local market for us in New Mexico, even Santa Fe was a hell of a drive away for us to deliver.” Pat was given some simple instructions from Cher. “He drove from Boise to Seattle and I told him the second he sees grass, call me. Well, he found the perfect spot in Prineville.”
After a couple of years hand building the plant, Cada Dia- Mark II- was ready and open for business. “The kids helped us build, we put it together with cinder blocks and liquid nails. This town is a bit like cowboy country so people didn’t think much of what we were doing. The local lumber business was the main employer and that went bust, so I’m sure they were thinking how can a cheese maker scratch a living out here? That was a turbulent time for the economy but we soon got up and running.” Pat had headed off to Tasmania to learn how to assemble a parlor, so he brought back the skills and knowledge to set them up perfectly for the launch.
The Sullivans had milked Ayrshire cows but were not fans. “We switched to Jersey in Oregon. Unfortunately David bought ours from the computer. I warn you now- do NOT buy cows off the internet- we got a load of s#*t cows! Some had five udders… Now we’ve built up a wonderful herd on our pasture of around forty, we milk around twenty once a day. That gives us about a hundred gallons of milk to work with.” The milk gets its unique flavors from a diet of fescue and white clover. Cher encourages visitors who tour the farm every Tuesday to put their hands in the soil to help understand the value of quality pastures in the cheese making process.
The farm now has two underground cellars. The soft cheese cellar is set to 52°F and the hard cheese cellar to 48°F. “Building that was tough- we found out Oregon was made of rock!” The family spent a couple of weeks blowing out the rock but now have the perfect small plant and aging facility for their needs. Their selling point is simple- grass fed, raw milk. The farm runs using artisan principles and takes a lot of work. “Ten years ago making cheese was fun but more recently we’ve needed help. Our nephew Taylor was spinning his wheels back in Virginia so we called him up and he headed over to Oregon. He is now our main cheese maker and doing a better job than Pat and I.”
Now Taylor is running the cheese parlor, Cher and Pat are out selling. Pat attends four farmers’ markets a week while Cher delivers to Eugene, Bend, Ashland and Portland. Cher said: “People out here, they are more intimate and take more time to learn about what they ingest. I was up at half five this morning hauling a hundred pounds of Cheddar to Portland. There’s a great food and drink scene here.” Their cheeses can be found at the mighty Timberline Lodge, all the way down to ‘Mom and Pop’ stores across the region. Cher is passionate that good cheese should not just be the reserve of the rich. “I don’t make $30 a pound cheese. I want everybody to have good food, I firmly believe on keeping our prices low to make it accessible to everybody.”
Cada Dia make a wonderful range of aged Cheddars to suit any palate. They offer mild, medium and sharp Cheddar and a variety of flavors including cumin, dill, caraway and chive. There is even a Christmas Cheddar, mad with red pepper flakes and green chives. Their cow milk feta is gaining new customers, as is the jalapeño version. “It’s to die for- the jalapeño isn’t hot once you add the milk.”
Cher and Pat seem to have found just the right crowd for their love of good cheese and a laid back life. Cher’s simple mantra remains “You can’t make good cheese with bad milk- we have good milk. Period.” Surrounded by vineyards, brewpubs and food lovers, we hope Cada Dia continues to share their passion for cheese with the people of Oregon. Their website contains information about their cheeses and tours- www.cadadiacheese.com.
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