Fermenting cheeses, meats and other foods is a natural extension of winemaking at Wooldridge Creek.
“That’s been a perfect fit,” says winery partner Kara Olmo, whose small-batch goat cheeses emerged in 2015 as cultured companions for Wooldridge Creek’s 12 varietals. “We wanted to have something to accompany our wine.”
Meats cured in styles of the Old World—“charcuterie” in French, “salumi” in Italian—lend more flavor to Wooldridge Creek’s wine-tasting experience. Patés, terrines, salami and duck prosciutto made on the Grants Pass estate compose a sumptuous spread with cheeses and assorted sweet and salty morsels. This “chef’s board” can be procured in the tasting room for $20. A cheese platter costs $10.
“I didn’t like the idea of using the products that were made elsewhere,” says Olmo, who brings formal culinary training to Wooldridge Creek, where her husband, Greg Paneitz, is winemaker. “All the veggies are from here; we’re sourcing our meats locally.”
Southern Oregon Fine Meats in Medford furnishes the raw materials. Chef Gillian Gifford transforms pork, poultry and organ meats into finely-textured, deftly-seasoned, savory delicacies, using generations-old recipes she acquired in Portugal.
“The whole thing is supposed to enhance the wine experience,” says Gifford, who serves as a consultant for Wooldridge Creek, founded in 1978 by Ted and Mary Warrick, who remain part owners.
Spices are carefully chosen for Wooldridge Creek charcuterie, says Gifford, to ensure their aromas won’t overshadow the wine. Overly sweet or astringent ingredients don’t make Gifford’s grade, either.
“I can’t smoke anything.”
Making charcuterie in 25-pound batches once or twice per week just meets tasting-room demand. While cheeses from Olmo’s CrushPad Creamery are available for retail purchase, confining charcuterie to on-farm sales permits its production in a mobile kitchen that is not subject to regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says Olmo. A champion of preserving farmland but also boosting agriculture’s appeal to customers, Olmo underwent a rigorous process to license CrushPad as Oregon’s first joint creamery and winery.
“We get to use some recipes that are really traditional,” says Olmo, explaining that there’s no need to extend the cheeses’ shelf life because they’re consumed within such a short time of manufacture. Soft, spreadable chevre with sea salt and herbs, as well as chewy curds, are CrushPad mainstays, supplemented with bloomy- and washed-rind recipes, all of which are pasteurized.
“Some of the goat cheese is dunked in wine,” says Olmo.
Wooldridge Creek cheeses and charcuterie pique customers’ interest, along with their appetites, says Olmo. An ancient form of food preservation, fermenting dairy and meats is chemically and biologically akin to the secondary fermentation of wine, she says. The similarities sometimes can be surprising, she adds, even to people with enology education and backgrounds.
“People are really curious.”
Overall impressions of the charcuterie, says Gifford, owe much to customers’ experiences and inherent tastes. The unadulterated unctuousness of chicken liver paté challenges some palates, she says, while others “basically lick the dish.”
Whole hams and salted, air-cured beef, known in Italian as “bresaola,” are items that Gifford and Olmo plan to offer in coming months. The prominence of hearty red wines in colder weather will prompt earthier seasonings, such as coriander and paprika, in the winery’s charcuterie, says Olmo.
The Wooldridge Creek tasting room is open 11:00am-5:00pm daily at 818 Slagle Creek Road in the Applegate Valley.
Reprinted from the Fall Winter 2016 issue of Southern Oregon Wine Scene.