Did you know that 80 percent of the country’s tart cherry supply comes from right here in Michigan? That’s no surprise to Jamie Roster. As the co-owner of the Cherry Stop in Traverse City (along with her husband Nick), it’s literally her business to know everything there is to know about Michigan cherries.
Jamie and Nick Roster purchased the Cherry Stop in 2005. At first, they made only cosmetic fixes (the business had already been around for 10 years), brightening the interior colors and displays. But gradually they’ve been making more substantial changes. In 2008 they acquired a liquor license so they can offer onsite tastings of local wines. And this year, they’ll be taking over the production of all their canned goods, which Jamie says will help them to be able to offer new products more quickly.
But for more on one of Michigan’s favorite fruits, here are thoughts on cherries from Jamie. Savor the Q&A – and the Cherry Stop’s delicious recipe for cherry chocolate chip oatmeal cookies!
Can you explain the types of tart cherries available in Michigan?
There are two types: Montmorency, which are the premiere cherries for making cherry pies, and Balaton cherries. Montmorency cherries have a red exterior and yellow flesh. They bruise easily once they’re picked. Balaton cherries have a darker skin and a burgundy color from skin to pit. The Balaton cherries are larger and hardier than Montmorency, but they’re not quite as tart. Balatons were originally from Hungary and, through a collaboration with Michigan State, they were introduced here about 20 years ago.
How are tart cherries processed?
We’re not involved in the growing or the processing, but I can explain how it’s done. Typically tart cherries are shaken off the trees. There’s this machine that holds the tree and shakes the trunk so that the cherries fall into a canvas underneath. Then the cherries are placed into water containers on trucks. They’re very fragile, so farmers have to be careful transporting them. But the cherries go right from the tree into the processor or they’re frozen. Tart cherries have to be processed very quickly. They don’t last very long off the tree.
What about the cherry products offered at your store?
Our cherry jams are a staple. And our cherry salsa is incredibly popular: it’s tomato based with a little tart and a little spice. (And) our old-fashioned cherry butter. But we’re constantly coming up with new product ideas.
How do you create new cherry products?
My husband and I are pretty much hands-on in every aspect of production. It’s either my ideas, or my husband’s. At home, we come up with crazy things and try them out in small batches until we perfect the recipe. That’s how I came up with cherry ginger jam. You have to try it – it’s a phenomenal jam. We also have a new product we’ve called Cherry Catsup, but that’s misleading because it’s very versatile – you can use it for everything from pork chops to ice cream.
What should cooks know about using cherries?
The big thing is not to be afraid of trying out something new! Cherries are so versatile, whether it’s for something sweet or savory. Cherries complement other flavors instead of overwhelming them.
To find just about anything "cherry" – from jams to T-shirts –visit Cherry Stop in Traverse City or order their products online. And for those of you looking for a unique Father’s Day present, Jamie mentioned she gets more than one call around June asking if they ship fresh, frozen tart cherries. The answer? You bet.