Pretty, please … with a cherry on top! Make that a Wisconsin tart cherry on top, and a request like that is hard to refuse! Wisconsin tart cherries are known for their sour, yet sweet taste, distinctive deep red color, and of course, their home in Door County.
Cherry trees have been growing in Door County since a late-1800s research trial introduced the tree to the area. After quick success, orchards began to pop up across the county. By 1909, the bountiful Door County cherry crop had gained national attention, and within 50 years, Door County was harvesting 10% of the nation’s cherries.
The most common variety of tart cherry grown in the United States is the Montmorency tart cherry. Montmorency tart cherries are harvested each year from mid-July to early August. The cherry’s name comes from a valley in the northern suburbs of Paris, France, where tart cherries were first cultivated in the eighteenth century. Now, more than 94% of Montmorency tart cherries consumed in the U.S. are grown in the U.S. Prominent tart-cherry producing states include Michigan, Utah, Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
In 2019, Wisconsin harvested 1,600 acres of cherry trees, resulting in 9.1 million pounds of fresh fruit. Cherry trees are harvested using modern, mechanical shakers. These shakers attach to the base of the tree and shake the trunk, causing the fruit to fall on to conveyor belts for collection. The machines work quickly, harvesting 60 to 100 trees in an hour. On average, 7,000 cherries will be harvested from each tree; that’s enough cherries to make 28 cherry pies!
After harvest, the tart cherries are transported to a processing facility where they are immediately cooled with chilled water. This preserves the freshness of the fruit and helps prevent the fruit from being crushed during pitting. A five-star needle quickly punctures the center of the fruit to pit each cherry. Once processing has finished, the cherries are packaged and frozen to preserve quality. On highly efficient orchards, the process from tree to freezer can be complete in under eight hours.
While Door County cherries were traditionally sold canned or as pie filling, juices and dehydrated fruit are seeing more and more of the current market share. Both cherry juice and dehydrated cherries are easy to grab on-the-go, and fit better into modern lifestyles. Though don’t get me wrong, I will always say yes to Wisconsin ice cream and a slice of old-fashioned cherry pie.
Tart cherries are a great ingredient to bring an on-trend flavor to a variety of dishes and products. As consumer palates have slowly gravitated from sweet to less sweet, tart and sour flavor profiles have risen in popularity. Tart cherries are the perfect combination of tart and sweet, and can add complex flavors to a range of recipes. Include cherries in your next bowl of granola, on top of your next salad, or as part of your next salmon glaze.
Learn more about the health benefits of Wisconsin cherries, the annual cherry harvest in July, or ways to utilize tart cherries in your next recipe at wisconsincherrygrowers.org.
Alice in Dairyland Abigail Martin can be reached at DATCP, 2811 Agriculture Drive, P.O. Box 8911, Madison, WI 53718 or DATCPAlice@wisconsin.gov.