The culinary list of amazing flavors and foodie finds continues to grow in Door County, a food travel destination that’s not on the way to anywhere, a fact that infuses the place with a relaxing vibe. We touched on some of the many fine, farm-to-table dining options possible in our first post, featuring enticing food, wine and cocktails.
In many ways, Door County is like Cape Cod, but without the big traffic jams -- or hurricanes. With more than 14 orchards featuring cherries and another ten orchards featuring apples, plus seven local wineries, three breweries, ten bakeries, three cheese factories, two smokehouses for whitefish, salmon and other lake fish, and four confectioners, buy local and eat or drink local comes easy, here. Plan to stock your pantry. There’s a cidery, distillery and ice cream factory, too.
If you feel the need to cook, farmstands and well-stocked orchard markets -- more like overflowing, local food-product versions of Trader Joes -- pop up regularly along Highway 42, the main tourist route taken to the end of the peninsula, to the narrow water passage between Lake Michigan and Green Bay known as Death’s Door, and ferry jump off point to Washington Island. During the summer, farmers’ markets can be found in seven communities on either coastline as well. From deliciously crafted sandwiches to unique food products, wine, cheese, beer and cider, Door County is a cornucopia of terroir, a taste of place.
Experience the full “goat to gelato” story at Door County Creamery. Farmer-entrepreneurs Jesse and Rachael Johnson offer a farm tour that starts with Jesse taking you behind the scenes of their small-scale cheese making operation in the small town of Sister Bay.
Then it’s a short bus ride to the farmstead where you meet the entire herd of goats, including bottle feeding the baby Nigerian dwarfs and touring the milking parlor. “We draw straws over who has to milk when it rains,” shares the affable farm manager, David Ruffle. “The goats move in herds so you’ll need to go out and get wet eight times to get all the goats milked.”
A personal cheese tasting with the cheesemaker herself follows. The tour wraps up with your choice of sandwiches or a salad back at the Creamery Café. Pure bliss was their grilled triple cream brie, roast turkey, lingonberry, aioli arugula on a croissant bun. For an agritourism operation, few do it better.
Building a travel journey around new food experiences can provide the seed for something to try back on your homestead. If you’re into your hops, grains and yeast, then Sister Bay’s Bier Zot is transformative, with over 100 varieties of beers from craft and microbreweries from the world over.
“The ‘zot’ in our name is German for a little crazy and I guess you could say we are when it comes to beer,” laughs Ryan Castelez, the crackerjack bartender who guides you through this gastropub’s beer selection with poetic skill at narrating every type, style and story behind the brew. Even for those who don’t consider themselves beer drinkers, let Castelez make a suggestion and you just might be converted.
Here, you don’t have to pick one brew. Opt for the tasting flight with his recommendations, from aged to sour beers. The menu, filled with sandwiches and light bites made from locally sourced ingredients, is designed to help guests pair the beers with each entrée. Yes, brats go with everything. But we opted for the open-faced mushroom sandwich with a blend of five mushrooms, recommended to pair with the Rauchbier Marzen, a German beer known for its distinct smoky robustness. We also sampled their aubergine Zacusca, a grilled eggplant with tomato, greens, shallots, basil chèvre and ground cumin on Naan bread that compliments the Saison Dupont, a classic Belgian farmhouse ale with both refreshing fruitiness and long, dry finish.
Besides partaking in a fish boil, few food travelers miss the opportunity to dine at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay for their Swedish pancakes, meatballs or lingonberries. Amazingly, servers call out your order to the cooks in the kitchen, with no written ticket system; the result: food quickly arriving to your table piping hot. While you might come for the meal, few leave without snapping some photos of the goats grazing on the sod roof.
“We bring it straight from the farm orchard to your hands,” explains Kristen Seaquist of Seaquist Orchards, producing cherries, apples and other farm fresh fare. Odds are high you’ll meet Kristen or one of the other 14 family members working in this operation when you stop by their welcoming Seaquist Farm Market store in Sister Bay. With more than 1,000 acres of cherries, Seaquist Orchards ranks the country’s largest single producer, adding up to great pricing on bulk frozen cherries for pie-making back home.
With the peninsula surrounded by water on three sides, there’s no wonder that fresh and smoked fish can be picked up, direct from the fishery. Give a call to Bailey’s Harbor Fish Company and see what fish they are smoking the day before you head home. Charlie’s Smokehouse near the peninsula tip in Gills Rock has been around since 1932 and run by the same family.
Handmade chocolates, fudge and taffy fill the counter and bins at Door County Candy, along with a dose of nostalgia taking you back to a time when visiting a candy shop was indeed a real treat. And no trip to Wisconsin is complete without cheese; Renard’s Cheese delivers. Third-generation master cheesemaker Chris Renard makes both classics, like smoked mozzarella strings, as well as over fifty different flavor-infused cheeses. For a locally-inspired twist, try their cheddar with Door County cherries. Both shops are in Sturgeon Bay on the southern end of the peninsula.
Door County Ice Cream Factory has been churning up homemade ice cream for over twenty-five years, all made with farm-fresh milk from local dairies. “I make seventy different flavors and have twenty-nine rotating in the case at any given time,” beams owner Todd Frisoni. He started working at the store in high school when his family would come up from Chicago for the summer because it was a place he could walk to before he could drive. Lucky for Door County, Frisoni fell in love with the sense of place, purchased the business right after college and has been serving up summer memories ever since, even giving away ice cream cups off their float in the local Fourth of July parade.
Thirsty? Door County has you covered. Get your morning brew at Door County Coffee and Tea Company, a family-run premier coffee roaster that crafts small batches to exact specifications in fun flavors like Cherry Crème, Raspberry Butter Crunch and Caramel Pecan Scones. “We use only the best beans, Specialty Class 1 Arabica coffee beans grown throughout the world where we know every farmer we buy from,” explains owner Vicki Wilson. “We know we’ll never be the biggest. But we can be the best.”
Looking for something local to wind down with while you watch the sunset? Door County offers a range of options, all with tasting rooms with informative staff that will help guide you to your new favorite. Island Orchard Cider produces hard ciders with fruit grown on their farm on Washington Island, the ideal rocky limestone soil and climate for French and American cider apples used to create these hard ciders in the Normandy tradition. Their ciders are dry, crisp and complex. Our favorite was the Brut Apple Cider, tart and refreshing. It’s perfect for both a celebratory toast or lingering conversations as the sun drops down over Green Bay.
Savor Door County flavors in a glass at Door Peninsula Winery, where we’re partial to their Sweet Cherry Wine. Need local ingredients for your farmstead cocktail? Door County Distillery offers a wide selection of award-winning handcrafted spirits. Door County Brewing Company Tap Room and Music recently opened an expanded tap room, with 24 tap lines. Listen to live music from the long communal tables or move to the outside beer garden complete with fire pit, local food trucks and hipsters updating their Instagram.
At Gustave’s Getaway, a meticulously restored 1887 log cabin nestled in the woods in the center of the peninsula, located roughly half way between Bailey’s Harbor and Ephraim, owner Annie Miller greets you at check-in with her homemade pecan rolls, kringle or other sweet treat made in her on-site bakery for breakfast in the morning, alongside peanut butter cookies to snack on at night.
Laura Ingalls Wilder never had it this good. This cabin, nestled in the heart of an 80-acre farmstead, is meticulously restored, originally built with timber native to Door County. Four generations of Millers have homesteaded on the land and now, thanks to Annie’s vision, we can share a piece of this pioneer heaven with all the comforts of modern life. There’s an electric range fashioned from the original wood stove, a front porch with Adirondack chairs to kick back on, and cozy second floor beds to turn in at night. The full kitchen comes in handy after stocking up at one of Door County’s many orchard farm stores.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband and photographer, John D. Ivanko, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of Lisa's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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