The Sullivan family, owners of Cada Dia Cheese in Prineville, make farming look easy. In fact, Pat Sullivan doesn't even consider himself a farmer.
"I'm not a real farmer," Pat explains, chuckling as he cleans equipment in the cheese-making facility he and his family built from scratch just two years ago.
"I look at the American dairyman and do everything differently. They milk twice a day, I milk once a day. They bring their feed in to the cows, mine harvest their own out in the pasture. I have three acres per cow and milk seasonally, when I have grass," he says.
Pat's background is in engineering, working most recently in the oil fields of West Texas. He started making cheese in New Mexico and was drawn to Central Oregon because of the similarities in the landscapes.
"It's harsh, grim, big, open country, but it's awesome country," he exclaimed with another chuckle, "Why do I need those damn trees anyway?"
Pat's wife, Cher, gave me a guided tour of Cada Dia from their herd of 20 Jersey cows grazing 60 acres of irrigated pasture to their hand-built cellar full of brilliant mustard-orange-colored cheese wheels sealed with Dutch wax. There's peppercorn cheddar, jalapeno, red pepper flakes, chive (Cher's favorite), a creamy tangy feta in fresh-pressed safflower oil from Hay Day Oil, and an experimental organic juniper berry cheddar. This is true farmstead cheese, family owned and operated.
The tour begins in the pasture with the calves, just three weeks old. Grass-fed Jersey cows produce dairy that's rich in Omega 3 with higher butterfat content. Cada Dia's season starts in April when the calves come out of the now-milk-producing mother cow, front legs first.
Cher's passion for her family's artisan work is clear as she remarks on the beauty of each step in the process: the sweet cows, the heavenly Camembert cheese rich enough to be enjoyed in single butter-pat-sized portions, the subtle rose flavor in the peppercorn cheddar, the gorgeous ribbons formed during the cutting of curds and whey and the delicious coffee ice cream her daughter made last year.
During peak season, they will get around 88 gallons of milk per day, which can produce 75 pounds of cheese. Cada Dia cannot legally sell their raw milk to consumers; retail sale of raw cow's milk is illegal in Oregon, limiting sales to on-farm purchases with no more than three producing cows. Advertising raw milk sales is also illegal.
So, why use raw milk?
"Here's the deal," Pat explains, "The milk comes out of the cow at 90 degrees - that's cheesemaking temperature - why would I chill it down as quick as I could, bring it back up to 90 degrees and then all the way up to 140 degrees?"
Pat argues that the level of quality control afforded to his small-scale operation protects his dairy from the food safety risks that require factory dairies to pasteurize.
Juniper Grove Farms, a goat dairy in Redmond, also makes exquisite cheeses with raw milk in addition to pasteurized soft cheeses. For those interested in raw milk, La Pine's Central Oregon Jersey Farm and Windy Acres Dairy in Prineville, offer "herdshares," a legal avenue for obtaining raw milk by buying a share of a cow and paying for its housing, care and milking.
Keep your eyes open for Cada Dia at five local farmers' markets this summer; the new Redmond Friday Farmers' Market will open the market season for Central Oregon on May 27. For local eateries doing good work with Cada Dia cheese, try Lone Pine Coffee's trifecta sandwich and Baked Bakery's savory hand pies, notable for their success in highlighting this rich bold cheese with grace and simplicity.
Cada Dia Cheese
9609 NW Sharp Road, Prineville
For tour information, visit cadadiachesse.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org