The great thing about the U.S. is that every state has its own winery, most have brew pubs, some have distilleries, and there is always a local food to brag about. In Door County, Wisconsin, a peninsula of land jutting out between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, these truths are fully evident. I have long advocated that when traveling, go local. This means sampling the local wines and beers, certainly avoiding chain restaurants and discovering where the cool foods are. You might not be familiar with Door County; it’s a haven for summer dwellers from Chicago and the greater Midwest. The region is home to seven wineries, two distilleries, local beers with winter wheat from the county and cherries…lots and lots of cherries.
There are three foods which define Door County: cheese, cherries, and fish. Cherries are what the region is best known for and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a cherry orchard. Therefore cherry pie is big here. I sampled cherry pie everywhere I went and found all manner of pie, most using the tart Montmorency cherry, but some pies adding almond paste, some with sugared crust, flaky crusts, sweet fillings, to tart-sweet cherry filling. Half the fun of visiting anyplace is to find their best food and sample it everywhere to discover the nuances of how it’s made. When in Door, get the cherry pie.
Then there is the fish boil, an aptly named food event dating back to the 1850s using white fish from the Lake Michigan or Green Bay. The ingredients are simple: fish, potatoes, onions and salt. A large pot is brought to a boil over an open flame, salt is added, then potatoes and onions. The fish is then placed in a basket which fits over the pot and is boiled for a brief time. At the very end of the boil, fuel is thrown on the fire and you’ve got yourself a mini-volcano. It’s a great show. The original fish boils happened when the oily salmon was more common and as the fish would boil, the oil from the salmon would boil over and enflame the fire, causing the flash. With whitefish, there is no actual boil over; therefore the ending flash is enhanced. This is basic food and fish boils are common all over the county. Make sure you try it but be certain to choose a fish boil where they use real wood as some these days use an electric burner. The Square Rigger Gallery in Jacksonport does a traditional fish boil and along with your dinner, there are appetizers and, yes, cherry pie for dessert.
Wisconsin brags it has 51 cheese masters, procuring an astounding array of state-wide cheeses, and it’s not all Colby and cheddar. Wisconsin Cheese Masters has a selection of over 90 cheeses in one spot. Owner Jim Harding started his cheese shop on-line, then added a brick and mortar store, conveniently located just steps from Harbor Ridge Winery in Egg Harbor. He’ll offer you free samples ranging from sheep, goat and cow cheeses in all forms; Goudas, merlot-soaked cheeses, chipotle and a most excellent Evalon, an aged goat cheese from LaClare Farms, among others. Buy your cheese then walk next door to the winery and grab a glass of local wine.
Harbor Ridge Winery started off as a coffee shop, then morphed into wine; perhaps an unusual transformation, but hey, this is Wisconsin. They make a few sweet wines on site, but buy a lot of grapes from the West Coast to make Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Orchard Country Winery makes a whole lot of fruit wines but they have an exceptional cherry wine which perfectly showcases area cherries. Simon Creek Winery owner Tim Lawrie, a Purple Heart recipient for his valor in the military, makes 10,000 cases of fruit and non-fruit wines including a very pleasant Chardonnay.
Shipwreck Brewery in Egg Harbor does a fine job of local beers and their Peninsula Porter, a dry, rich brew with toasted barley and soft mocha notes is wonderful. Their IPA is not as aggressive as you’d find in larger brew-centric cities, but it’s balanced and mildly hoppy. There are the two distilleries in the Door; Death’s Door which produces vodka, and a very nice white whisky which is clean, with a hint of sweet wheat and an earthy back note. Door County Distillery crafts vodka made from local winter wheat from Washington Island, just north of the tip of the peninsula. This is terrific balanced vodka, surprisingly mild at 80 proof.
So whether you’re in Door County, Wisconsin, or wherever, act like a local and eat and drink from where you are. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll find. Check out more at www.DoorCounty.com
By Michael Cervin, www.CervinsCentralCoast.blogspot.com