Photo of Sasha Davies of Cyril's


Last week, I explored the wonderful world of cheese through the eyes of Sasha Davies of Cyril’s & Clay Pigeon Winery in Southeast Portland. I was so excited to visit her restaurant, because I have always been a glutton for cheese. While tasting the earthy landscape of a French goat variety, I listened with pleasure as Sasha shared her knowledge of all things cheese and her life as a cheesemonger.

Sasha began working in cheese after seven years as a project manager in financial services. She wound up getting a job at a cheese center in New York City on the outskirts of Hell’s Kitchen.

“They were importing cheese from around the world––caring for it, aging it, and selling it,” she says. It was there that she began an internship in affinage. “When I accepted the position I had no idea what affinage was, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone that.” Affinage is the French word for aging cheese. She worked in what the center called cheese caves, which incubate the cheeses, and was swept away by the process. She says she loves that by making slight alterations to a fairly “basic” recipe, thousands of radically different tasting cheeses can evolve.

After that first year of discovery, Sasha was still unsure of the road ahead of her. She wondered if she could get the general public to share her passion for artisanal cheese. With a love for radio journalism and storytelling, she set out to create a podcast, “Cheese By Hand.” Roaming across the country interviewing farmers and cheesemongers, she spent hours reporting their stories.

Originally from California, she started to miss the West Coast. With Portland’s proximity to grapes, and Sasha’s husband dreaming of winemaking, the two of them decided to pack up, and move west.

In an industry dominated by men, Cyril’s is a breath of fresh air in kitchen culture. The first kitchen she experienced was akin to a fraternity house. “I wasn’t sure I could handle all that testosterone,” she says. “I didn’t want to have to act like a man to be successful in the kitchen.” Femininity shouldn’t be a crime, Sasha adds, the focus should be on the food.

Kitchen work, actually never really appealed to her. “I never thought I would work in a kitchen, let alone run one,,” she says. But in the end, her love for food trumped all, and the result is a restaurant infused with Sasha’s creativity, love, and passion.

When asked if she likes making cheese, Sasha laughs, “I am much more Ramona Quimby, than Martha Stewart. You can make edible cheese no problem, but good cheese is really hard. It is so much more meticulous than you would think.”

The comparison between herself and the fictional character made popular in the series of novels authored by Beverly Cleary, is apropos. Ramona, a rambunctious girl with tousled hair, a curious nature and a strong imagination, stares back at me through Sasha’s eyes. It’s this curiosity and sense of wonder when it comes to food that inspires her menu.

Cyril’s & Clay Pigeon Winery is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. This summer they will be releasing five new wines, and will host a summer concert series.


POSTED May 14th 2016 by admin