Door County, Wisconsin is quaint. That doesn’t mean hokey, like a McDonalds Happy Meal. It means that it’s innocent, unspoiled, rural, full of clapboard houses, absent of fast food restaurants and shopping centers, a view into America of yesteryear. Some of the towns resemble a set from “Father Knows Best.” There were joggers out running the first morning I was there. There was hardly any traffic. The breezes between Lake Michigan and the Bay of Green Bay blow there, gently. It’s quaint and they want to keep it that way. I just returned from 48 hours there and this is a report on that time.
Door County is a peninsula jutting between the Bay of Green Bay and Lake Michigan in northeastern Wisconsin. It’s shaped like a long triangle. In the early days of French trappers it was full of ermine, beaver and other animals which trappers hunted for trade with sophisticates in the Eastern cities of New York and Philadelphia and Boston. Because of its location on the water it has also always been a location for shipbuilding. This continues today. There are still shipbuilders who work on yachts for celebrities like the Sultan of Brunei and Tiger Woods. Today, the principal business in Door County is tourism. It’s well placed there. There are vineyards, and cherry orchards and a state park which welcome the visitors.
Cherry orchards? Yes, as the animals began to die out and farmers came to settle the land they began to assess the soil and discovered that there is limestone just 1 foot under the topsoil running throughout the county. Cherry trees have very shallow roots. The farmers discovered that cherries could flourish in the shallow topsoil and so was born an industry. By the 1960s Door County produced 95% of the US cherries. It still produces tons of cherries. Door County makes cherry salsa, cherry barbeque sauce, cherry strudel, cherry granola, cherry jams, jellies and several varieties of cherry juice. This is not to mention some of the very best cherry pie anywhere. Door County cherries are justifiably famous. www.orchardcountry.com will lead you to lots of information on cherries there.
Then, there’s cheese. This is Wisconsin after all. I visited School House Artisan Cheese, which has a tasting room and a master cheese maker. He described the processes by which cheese is made and created a tasting of some remarkable cheeses: Petit Frere, Mobay, Dunbarton Blue and Buttermilk Blue. I’m sure that they will arrange a tasting for you too. It’s a wonderful way to pass an hour or so. www.schoolhouseartisancheese.com will give you all the information you need.
Traveling along the roads of Door County I noticed the names of the towns and was delighted by them: Sister Bay, Egg Harbor, Sturgeon Bay. There are also wonderful street names: Tart Cherry Lane, Sunny Point Road, Hidden Spring Road. Some of the local businesses are rather wonderfully named: Custard’s Last Stand, Plum Loco Animal Farm, Aunt Velma’s House and Hearth, Grandma Tommy’s Country Store.
I had lunch at Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor www.wilsonsicecream.com It’s another trip down memory lane. Juke boxes featuring Ricky Nelson and The Four Tops and menu selections featuring banana splits and root beer floats in frosted glasses and extra thick malts were delightfully available. The restaurant has been there since 1906. It’s in Ephraim and not likely to move. This is really the kind of place where Garrison Keeler should be writing his “News from Lake Woebegone” I almost expected him to show up taking a break from his writing tasks to have a soda.
Another gem was Koepsel’s Farm Market, www.koepsels.com . It’s only open between the late Spring to the early Fall. Everything in the open air market is home-made and locally labeled. The family spends the winter canning their products and preparing them for the market. They feature locally-made cherry jams, smoked fish, fruit butters, meats, pies, Door County syrups, Door County wines and cheeses. It’s something that is rarely seen. It’s a touch of down home in the midst of our modern world.
I’m almost afraid to write about Door County. It’s so special that I really want to keep it to myself!