Gold Country Culinary Tour
After carpenter James Marshall spotted a few glittering flecks of the precious metal in a sawmill tailrace in 1848, the California Gold Rush was on. The fateful Sutter’s Mill, located in Coloma midway between Sacramento to the west and Lake Tahoe to the east, would become ground zero for the 80,000 fortune-seeking immigrants who would soon flood the state.
In Coloma today, you can still visit the site of the former mill and pan for gold at nearby Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. But there are other treasures worth discovering in the gold-speckled hills of north-central California. Among the region’s modern treasure troves are the food and wine currently being crafted by the descendants of those early California pioneers — as well as by an eclectic collection of newcomers — who populate this fertile region’s diverse culinary scene.
Attracting more than 50,000 food and wine pilgrims annually, El Dorado County serves one-tenth of Napa’s annual visitors, making it a more rustic and intimate way to experience some of the best viticulture California has to offer. Plus, the area produces more than just wine: With a centuries-old agricultural pedigree and a unique climate and terroir, the region is rife with a wide variety of fruits — including cherries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, apples, pears, persimmons, and oranges — as well as pumpkins, flowers, honey, and even Christmas trees.
To get started on your Gold Country culinary adventure, head east out of Sacramento (or west from Tahoe) on Interstate 50 to Placerville, El Dorado’s county seat. Formerly known as “Dry Diggin’s” (for the gravel that had to be carted to water for panning) and “Hangtown” (for the preferred local method of justice), Placerville has developed a reputation in recent years for producing vibrant quality wines in the scenic foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Once you reach town, head north on State Highway 49. At Wallace Road take a left to Hooverville Orchards, a 72-acre family operation that supplies farmers markets with fine fruit all the way from Tahoe to San Francisco. “I’ve found a way to fill every day of every season with something to harvest,” says farmer Chris Hoover. His orchards produce 100 varieties of fruit, including 10 varieties of crisp and brightly flavored Asian pears.
After stocking up with a basket of fruit, some jalapeño raspberry jam, or a strawberry rhubarb pie, head back south to Interstate 50 East and pick up Carson Road at the Schnell School exit. You are now entering a fertile region called Apple Hill, home of some of the county’s best sources for fruit, vegetables, and wine. Follow Carson Road east to Boeger Winery, where the original 1872 structure serves as a picturesque reminder that Italian winemakers settled here. A century-old pear orchard still occupies the grounds, while a modern high-tech winery sits across the gardens, boasting a tasting room, offices, cellars, and an enology lab. “We were the first winery in the county to reestablish after Prohibition,” points out Greg Boeger, a third-generation winemaker at ...