Corks+Forks: Dinah’s Cheese at Lark and Morellino di Scansano

A boy and his cow.

cheese dedicated to the cow it came from, served up and fresh at lark with sangiovese.

Dinah’s Cheese is the story about a boy and his loyal… cow. Not quite the tale of Old Yeller, Benji or even Hooch, but Kurt Timmermeister and his cow, Dinah, have started a saga of their own on their Vashon Island ranch, Kurtwood Farms. After cutting his teeth in Paris, Kurt found his true self in the city of lights and brought back an affection for fine foods and, most importantly, cheese. Several jobs both in the front and back of restaurants led him to the opening of his first café at only 24-years-old. He ran a handful of larger joints while receiving education for small-scale farming which ushered him to his purchase of the land on Vashon Island in 1991.

The originally four acre property gradually became home to Kurtwood Farms, its loghouse guest room, professional kitchen cookhouse, barn, creamy, underground cheese cave and has nearly tripled in size today. Ornamented with fruit and nut trees along with a vegetable and herb garden, the heart of the farm is the pasture which provides shelter to sheep, free rooting pigs, a flock of chickens, geese, ducks and a small herd of Jersey cows that make the magic happen.

The boy and his cow.

With the support of Seattle-area retailers, like Metropolitan Markets and DeLaurentis, and restaurants, like The Book Bindery and Cafe Juanita, Kurt and his team pulled their operation into the swing of full-time and have been working their bloomy rinds off ever since.

Named in honor of the inaugural cow on the farm, Dinah’s is modeled after Camembert cheese (has to be from Camembert, France to don the label). An arduous category to tackle, curdling camembert can be a task and getting the bloomy rind (the edible crust of cheese) to taste just right is often unpredictable. Kurt forms the fromage from fresh cows’ milk in three weeks and he aims to get it to his clients within hours of its final preparations.

The Restaurant: Lark — Founded in the small plates fashion, chef/owner John Sundstrom’s restaurant strives to “inspire communal dining” with multiple courses, drink pairing options and the encouragement of enjoying the company at the table with you. Chef Sundstrom graduated from culinary school, apprenticed under an acclaimed sushi master and ran the line at resort hotel kitchens but the basis of his café’s mission statement comes from the farmers and foragers that provide him with his local ingredients. His innovation in flavors but simplicity in presentation merited his title of “Best Chef Northwest” by the James Beard Foundation in 2007, following nominations in 2005 and 2006.

The Dish: Dinah’s Cheese ($5) — Beautifully rich and creamy, the flavor relishes like sweet cream. Semi-soft in classification and “stinky” in the highest of calibers, the robust tastes are taken even further in complexity as the wheel turns out to the rind, from smooth, buttery goo goodness to a bittersweet earth crust.

The Variety: Sangiovese — Piedmont might have Nebbiolo and the Veneto might have Valpolicella of Amarone, but central Italy, from Romagna to Campania, has Sangiovese. The grape variety of Chianti (arguably the most accustomed Italian wine in America), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino, Sangiovese is fresh in acid and bright in red fruit, yet full of earth and spice. Oak makes it a different animal, introducing more tannin and rounded acidity.

Why It Works: High acid, low alcohol wine leads to a happy wine and food pairing. The earthiness of the wine should mimic that of the bloomy rind of the cheese, while the gooey cheese should accentuate the spice finish and pronounce herbal tones of the wine.

The Recommended Match: Poggio Argentiera 2008 Capatosta Morellino di Scansano Riserva DOCG ($30) — Morellino is not only the name of the wine, but the local name of the grape – Sangiovese, which claims 95% of this wine from old vines on the property. 5% Alicante is blended into the traditional take on this full-bodied, brightly acidic wine that lays on thick red bramble fruit and raspberries, with nutmeg and cooking spices, stately tannins in the finish that are heightened by oak barrel aging.

Capatosta is Italian for “stubborn” which is the winery owner’s whimsical tribute to his father. Just like how “Dinah” is English for “world-rocking cow-made cheese.”

Lark| 926 12th Avenue, Seattle | (206) 323-5275