In June 2015, CrushPad Creamery, Oregon’s first joint creamery and winery opened in the Applegate Valley at Wooldridge Creek Winery, located at 818 Slagle Creek Road. In Summer of 2016, the venture expanded into house-made charcuterie items as well. Wooldridge Creek Winery is jointly owned by Greg Paneitz, his wife Kara Olmo (in photo above) and Ted and Mary Warrick.
Kara serves as CrushPad’s cheesemaker while her husband, Greg, will continue-on as the well-respected winemaker for Wooldridge Creek Winery. “With cheese tasting now being offered alongside wine tasting, Greg and I are offering wine enthusiasts yet another experience and reason to come out to the winery,” Kara says.
She says naming the creamery “CrushPad” was a natural choice, “since it’s literally located on the winery’s crush pad, offering visitors a chance to look inside the creamery as they view the wine tanks at Wooldridge Creek.”
Olmo says she’s loved the thought of creating artisan foods since a young age. Her passion, coupled with a degree from San Francisco City College in Hotel Administration, culminated in the mother of four earning a post-baccalaureate degree in fermentation science from California State University, Fresno.
Kara shares, “Although I grew up far from farmland, I’ve been interested in fermentation since I was a teenager. When I was 15, I told my high school guidance counselor that I wanted to pursue a wine or cheese degree at UC Davis but he told me that I lacked the ability to comprehend the necessary science and that the army was a better choice.”
Kara says falling in love with the art of cheese-making and then learning the science behind it included 10+ years of higher education… in addition to multiple failed batches of cheese along with the successful ones!
Kara and Greg discovered Southern Oregon in 2003 and have been running Wooldridge Creek Winery as their main professional focus since 2005. “As we crossed the decade mark with the winery, I realized I was ready to take my home cheese-making hobby to a commercial level,” she adds.
Fortunately, Kara and Greg made many friends along the way, including with the owners of Rogue Creamery, who, they say, have been incredibly supportive of their new cheese-making venture. Kara explains, “I started my creamery quest with David and Cary at Rogue Creamery…they have been supportive every step along the way, from explaining the regulatory process to introducing me to other helpful members of the US cheese industry. I am so grateful they welcomed me as a new member in the industry!” In 2013, Kara says she met Gianiclis and Vern Caldwell of Pholia Farms, and attended intensive cheese-making classes with them at Pholia. There, she helped-out at the farm whenever possible and is now purchasing their goat milk to be used in her very own cheeses for her CrushPad Creamery brand.
CrushPad Creamery offers cheese from both cow and goat milk, ranging in style from soft and creamy to hard cheeses that are aged for over one year. Kara points out, “All the cheeses created will aim at pairing well with wine…we’ve already started one cheese that is dunked in red wine and yet another washed with our dessert wine.”
Further personal touches incorporated into her cheese-making pursuits include using elements from her own garden and vineyard, both of which, she says will play an important role in CrushPad cheeses.
“Wooldridge Creek Winery is committed to certified sustainable and organic farming methods for our farm, garden and vineyards. We have always believed that participating in these programs has led us to the healthiest land and highest-quality wines. Now our environmentally-friendly farming practices are playing a major part in the production of our cheeses.”
As an example, Kara says she recently used vegetable ash from Wooldridge Creek’s grapevine cuttings to dust over a soft cheese to help a white cheese rind grow. “It worked just as I’d hoped,” she said with a gleam in her eyes and glow on her face…mirroring the passion she feels for her vines, wines and her CrushPad Creamery creations!