October 28, 2014 – The quiet farming area of Dixon, just west of Sacramento on I-80, is famous as the location of the world’s biggest corn maze. At 60 acres, it is in the Guinness Book of Records and attracts visitors from all over the world. That’s just an interesting aside having absolutely nothing to do with this story! The real story is the resurgence of hop growing in the Sacramento Valley. Resurgence may be an overstatement, but there is a lot of interest beyond beer making. Hops are now making their way into food.
Hops were introduced in California at the time of the Gold Rush and flourished, supplying the many local breweries in the area. But after World War II, cost of land was one factor that moved cultivation to eastern Washington, which is now the biggest producer.
At Ruhstaller Beer, owner J-E Paino has planted seven acres of hops in Dixon. He says there used to be tens of thousands of acres planted to high quality hops and that the Sacramento Valley was to hops what the Napa Valley is to wine. As he told Debbie Arrington of the Sacramento Bee recently, hops are beginning to play a role in food as chefs are dabbling with adding actual hops, not beer, to a wide spectrum of dishes from ice cream to mac and cheese. The bitterness of hops balances the sweetness of dessert dishes. When used sparingly, they add interesting layers of complexity and intriguing flavor to other recipes.