By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – A single Flathead cherry adorned the pork cutlet that melted in the mouth. The wine pairing – a David Arthur Vineyards 2011 vintage Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon – washed over the tongue, its licorice notes dancing with a blackberry aroma. The mountain ranch setting finished off the experience.

This was the fourth course of five for a group of 30 Big Sky locals and visitors who gathered at Lone Mountain Ranch on Aug. 15 to sample some of the historic ranch’s new menu, along with wine pairings from Napa Valley, Calif.’s David Arthur Vineyards, as part of the Big Sky Wine and Dine Festival. The cool evening began with introductions by LMR Executive Chef Nick Steen, who attributed his culinary success to his mother.

“Mom, if you hadn’t told me to stop playing with my food, I’d never be where I am today,” said the Billings native, who’s been the ranch’s head chef since last August. “I’m glad I didn’t take her advice.”

Steen and David Arthur Vineyards’ Laura Long explained that each of the evening’s five courses was paired with a specific wine, and the second course – duck with foie gras, strawberries and beets – was coupled with a special blend of wine, one with an Italian twist.

“With the Meritaggio, we wanted the best of the blended reds,” said Long, identifying the way her father, David, had combined Italian-style Sangiovese grapes with four Bordeaux-style varietals to produce this Meritage vintage. “The [foie gras] plate was blended in the same way David blended the wine.”

Dr. James Smith, a pathologist at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and noted two particular highlights.

“The Meritaggio was the most unique wine I’ve ever tasted,” Smith said. “But the ahi was superb. They caught it yesterday and flew it in today.”

Steen and Long paired the first course – fresh ahi tuna with vanilla bean brown butter, caramelized peaches, pickled jalapenos and butter lettuce – with a 2012 David Arthur Chardonnay, for a delectable combination.

The two then coupled a 2012 Three Acre Cabernet Sauvignon with 30-year-old balsamic vinegar, black garlic and radishes, which accented the local Wagyu ribeye steak for the third course. Sourcing food locally is one of Steen’s goals.

“We live in a mecca [for beef],” said Steen, 29, who receives two shipments per week from Montana Wagyu Cattle Company in Belgrade. “We’re outnumbered by cattle 3-1 [in Montana]. It supports our local economy and we gotta take care of the people who take care of us.”

For the last course, Steen poured liquid nitrogen over apricots with goat cheese, microgreens and raspberries, served with a 2012 Late Harvest Riesling. It finished off a meal fit for kings, and LMR – which was purchased by Newport Beach, Calif. real estate company Makar Properties last November – says it’s sure not to be the last.

Culinary events at Lone Mountain Ranch this fall will include weekly, four-coursed beer and wine dinners. Visit lonemountainranch.com for details.