FOOD
Sasha Davies and Michael Claypool of Cyril’s at Clay Pigeon Winery. ##Photo by Jared Seager

Cheese Expertise

Sasha Davies offers customers affine experience

Cheese Chick

Christine Hyatt promotes the wonders of fine cheese through food writing, recipe creation, food photography and video. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @cheesechick1.

The story of cheese maven Sasha Davies and her husband, winemaker Michael Claypool, is one filled with passion and an affinity for, well, a good story.

Let me explain.

The couple met in 1999; she was living in San Francisco and he in New York. Davies relocated to New York, but food was not part of their plan until 2003, when Davies began to tire of her work as a financial services project manager. Yearning for a job that was genuinely interesting, she settled on two possibilities: making radio documentaries or cheese.

In 2003, an internship at Artisanal Cheese Center exposed Davies to a huge range of exceptional European imports and an elite group of American cheeses, carefully sourced and aged in one of the first climate-controlled cheese cave environments in the country.

“There, we saw cheese as a living thing,” she recalled. “It touched on the perfect combination of culture and science.” 

She was officially hooked. Davies went on to manage the caves at Artisanal as well as Murray’s Cheese — both located in New York — and ran the general store at Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Reading everything she could about cheese, she also wanted to learn more about the people who make it and their challenges. While European producers held an allure, it was the homegrown producers who drew her attention.

In the summer of 2006, she and Claypool began a cross-country journey to interview and work with cheesemakers around the nation. The experience, which combined both her interests in radio documentary and cheese, became the online Cheese By Hand project.

She presented her mid-journey findings at the American Cheese Society conference, held that year in Portland. This, she says, was at a critical moment when people became aware of the work she was doing and her desire to contribute and unify the cheesemakers who were in disparate, often remote locations.

Upon their return to New York, the city held somewhat less appeal. Both had visions of a different sort of life in a smaller city, closer to the viticulture, a key element in Claypool’s winemaking dream. 

They considered the Bay Area where Davies had grown up but were afraid they’d be priced out of the industry in Napa or Sonoma. They decided to relocate north of the California border in the city of Portland, where the food scene was hot and Pinot Noir grapes were within reach.

Moving officially in 2008, Davies worked the counter at Steve’s Cheese and, over the next few years, wrote two books: “The Guide to West Coast Cheese” (2010) and “The Cheesemaker’s Apprentice” (2012). She also helped create the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional exam.

Some soul searching followed as Davies weighed her options on her next venture. Considering a small shop where she would focus on cheese, she began to look for a place. After finding the perfect building in Southeast Portland, Davies and Claypool decided to combine their passions in one space.

“It took four years, but this is a beautiful marriage of what Michael and I wanted to do,” she says of Cyril’s at Clay Pigeon Winery, which will celebrate its second anniversary in November.

“Our vision was an urban winery with a restaurant attached. Someplace casual enough for a small bite but memorable enough for a birthday or special guests,” Davies continued. “We really focused on how it would feel, for us, for our staff and for our guests. We wanted a welcoming and comfortable space that would feel like an extension of home.”

The building’s open, airy atmosphere is light-filled and inviting, perfect for a casual or elegant evening. While the winery is active this time of year, as they crush and ferment the 2014 wines, the rest of the year, the winery becomes the scenic backdrop for the restaurant and event space that regularly hosts private events and receptions.

She says the greatest moments of affirmation occur when regular customers bring friends and family to share a special meal. “They are talking, telling their guests about the winemaker and his wife who loves cheese, and sharing food and memories… In those moments, I could die happy.”

Visit Cyril’s, and try a glass of Clay Pigeon Pinot Noir along with the immensely popular cheese plate carefully curated by Davies. Of course, these cheeses are connected with stories of the land, animals and people who bring them to life. A story they are only too happy to share.

 

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