Ranch dressing–arguably the most versatile of condiments, perfect for carrots, fries, pizza, wings, sandwiches, salads, and maybe even bathing. Oddly enough, it is also one of our main inspirations.
Back in 1954, Steve and Gayle Henson purchased a ranch off Highway 154 near the Chumash Painted Caves. It was called Sweetwater Ranch back when the Hensons took it over, but they weren’t too keen on that name and subsequently renamed their property Hidden Valley Ranch.
hidden valley ranch back in the day
Guests would visit the Hensons’ dude ranch to do all sorts of ranchy things—ride horses, chew on hay, fiddle with saddles, pick cactus needles out of their butts, etc. After a long day of activities, the ranch apparently would get a little rowdy. “It was a cross between a nightclub, a motel and a dude ranch,” recalls LA filmmaker and photographer Alan Barker. “On some nights when the ranch was hosting a party, Gayle cooked up to 300 steaks and then played the organ and sang, while Steve told stories and entertained.” With all of these hungry guests, Steve knew he’d need a way to satisfy their stomachs. His special buttermilk dressing was just the trick. Here are the ingredients he used: buttermilk, mayo, sour cream, dried parsley, dried onions, dried garlic, MSG, salt, black pepper.
People raved about this dressing, later reminiscing about it more than their actual experience at the ranch. So Steve brought a sample to the closest restaurant, which happened to be the Cold Spring Tavern. The owner tried it, loved it, and immediately put this “Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing” on her menu. Steve then marketed it to Kelly’s Korner, a vegetable stand and on State and La Cumbre streets. The stuff flew off the shelves. Very quickly, the Hensons had a pretty big business on their hands.
high school sweethearts steve and gayle henson
In 1972, the corporate devils from Clorox purchased Hidden Valley Ranch (the dressing, not the place) for $8 million. They sold Hidden Valley Ranch in jarred and packet form. In 1980, they reformulated the recipe to include more preservatives, stabilizers, and shelf-stable ingredients.
hidden valley ranch today. check it out when driving up the 154
When we began thinking about our menu about a year ago, ranch dressing was one of the first things we knew we had to incorporate. But, of course, we had to make it different than any other ranch. We decided we’d use real buttermilk, which we get as a byproduct (or maybe the most important product?) from churning our cultured cream, instead of the acidified milk you get in the store; we’d use an olive oil-based aioli instead off standard mayo; we’d use fresh parsley and chives instead of parsley and onion powders; we’d use homemade creme fraiche instead of commercial sour cream; and we’d use Bragg Liquid Aminos–a locally produced health food–instead of MSG, to add umami. The end result is something that definitely brings you back to the idea of eating ranch, but gives you a lot more depth, a much more natural flavor, with a tang that is at once refreshing while also deeply satisfying. It’s not the original, but it’s pretty darn good.