Large hops farm planned for Route 48 in Mattituck


A Mattituck farm owned by a famous cheese-making family, which became a site for the illegal dumping of yard waste, is now being reincarnated as a hops farm. 

The 19.7-acre site on the north side of Route 48 has been the source of many questions from residents and officials who have noticed the large poles erected on the site and wonder what is going on.

“I’ve seen it and assumed it was going to be for hops,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. “No one’s approached me about it, so I don’t know who is going to operate it. We are starting to see the cultivation of hops around town but, to my knowledge, this is the first large-scale operation.”

The land is currently owned by the Ruth Pollio Revocable Trust, but it’s in contract to be sold.

A real estate broker for the site said the new owners do not wish to be interviewed until the sale is completed later this month, though he did confirm the land is planned for a hops farm. He did not identify the buyer.

The Pollio family founded the Polly-O string cheese company in 1899; it was sold to Kraft in 1986. Ruth Pollio, whose name is on the trust that currently owns the farm, died in 2014.

The property is part of Suffolk County’s Farmland Preservation program since the development rights have been purchased by the county and only agricultural uses are permitted there.

Since growing hops is considered an agricultural use, a building permit or site plan approval from Southold Town isn’t required.

“It’s encouraging to see new agricultural uses,” said Southold Town Planning Director Heather Lanza. “It’s great to see new farmers coming to town.”

Suffolk County Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) also said he’s glad to see the new use.

“It’s certainly welcome that someone is taking that over for agriculture,” he said. “It’s being sold to someone who’s going to use it as a farm, and it’s been cleaned up.”

The yard waste dumping at the site was not considered an agricultural use by the county, and both the county and the state Department of Environmental Conservation took enforcement actions against the property owners to require a cleanup.

“They had taken in truckload after truckload of municipal lawn waste, mainly leaves, but it was mixed with other debris,” Mr. Krupski said.

Charles Cuddy, the attorney for the Pollio family, did not return a call seeking comment.

Hops, a key ingredient in the production of beer, is a budding industry on the North Fork, with several farms already in existence. Condzella Hops in Wading River, Farm to Pine on the C.J. Van Bourgondien Greenhouses land in Peconic, Long Island Hops on Sound Avenue in Jamesport, Route 27 Hops in Manorville and North Fork Hops on Horton Avenue in Southold are among the operations to pop up in recent years.

Cliff Cornell of North Fork Hops said it takes about three years before the crop can be fully harvested. The expansion of local operations is good news for the many beer producers who have also come to the North Fork in recent years.

“We’re all waiting with baited breath for someone to make more,” said Dan Burke of Long Ireland Beer Company in Riverhead.

The problem, Mr. Burke said, is that hops need to be “pelletized” in order to have a longer shelf life.

The non-pelletized hops, or wet hop, as he called it, “have a short window to be usable as a viable product locally and in New York State. That window is basically from the second week in August to the first week in September.”

Mr. Burke said a pound of “wet hop” costs about the same as six pounds of pelletized hopes.

“So as much as I want to support the local guy, it’s going to cost me six times more to do so,” he said.

Mr. Cornell said Long Ireland and Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. have in the past made a beer from non-pelletized hops, but that is limited to using the hops “exactly when they are ripe” — toward the end of August and beginning of September.

“It’s a fresh brew hop,” he said. “You’re literally taking the hop off the vine and within 24 hours getting it into a vat and brewing it.”

North Fork Hops does have a pelletizer, but Mr. Cornell says that machine can be expensive, ranging from $15,000 to $60,000, depending on size.

So far, he said, other hops growers have not sought to use his pelletizer.

Rich Vandenburgh of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. said his company doesn’t use whole leaf hops.

“The hops would need to be pelletized,” he said.

Consistency is important in hops, Mr. Vandenburgh added.

“It’s so much easier for us to know, when we put an order in with one of the largest hop providers, that we’re going to get a pretty consistent product,” he said. “As much as we want to support local, we don’t want people drinking our beer to blame us for the fact that it doesn’t taste what it’s supposed to taste like.”

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Photo: The sudden build-out of wooden poles used for hops farming has led many in the community to wonder exactly what is planned for this farm on Route 48 in Mattituck.(Credit: Chris Lisinski)