I’d guess most states in America have several sources of mouth-watering, municipal pride – a local food lover’s destination, perhaps, or culinary product the citizenry reference with great passion.
In one state, for instance, the locals may point you in the direction of a barbecue joint, and tell you their pulled pork sandwich was voted the best barbecue sandwich in national magazines for five consecutive years. Or perhaps you’re visiting Cape Cod, and are directed to a diner serving up “the plumpest fried clams on the planet.”
If you’re a tourist visiting Michigan, particularly in July, you may notice some of us “down-staters” proudly pointing up-state, proclaiming the sweetest boast of all: “Here in Michigan, our farmers grow the finest tasting cherries in the country!” we announce. “Did you know Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of America? Here, have a cherry,” we offer. (In midsummer, we’re always within arm’s reach of a bag of fresh cherries.) “Have you ever tasted a better cherry? But watch out for that pit! “
AnnArbor.com Community Director Stefanie Murray has fond memories of growing up in Traverse City, especially in July when the cherries come to season. “Cherry season is such a beautiful time of year – from when the cherry trees blossom to when the fruit is ripe,” she said.
“My best memories of cherries come from the National Cherry Festival, and getting plastic cups of cherries and sitting by the bay on the beach, eating them,” continued Stefanie. “My favorite cherry items, aside from eating fresh cherries, are cherry mustard and cherry barbecue sauce.”
Stefanie tells me Traverse City has “cherry everything” year-round, from cherry meat to cherry barbecue sauce to cherry ice cream, breads, wine, jams, jellies and more. “You see all these products on display during the Cherry Festival,” she said. “I’m going to be up there for the festival and I’m really excited!”
Since 1926, The Cherry Festival, according to the website, visittraversecity.com, is Traverse City’s signature event, attracting as many as 500,000 participants from around the country. From July 3-July 10 festival attendees enjoy parades, air shows, races, outdoor concerts and, of course, cherry-eating activities.
I didn’t notice any duck, however, on this year’s festival tasting menu. For me, duck and cherries are a marvelous pair, and I particularly enjoy grilling duck breasts in the summer. I adore the rich, dark meat of a grilled duck breast, especially when served medium rare and paired with fruity sauces.
I also relish the flavor of freshly toasted and ground coriander seed rubbed onto duck skin before cooking, and I generally add a bit of ground coriander to the fruity sauce. When lightly toasted, the seed (not to be confused with the leaves, often referred to as cilantro, which have an entirely different flavor) has a lovely orange aroma, which infuses the flavor of the duck with earthy, citrus tones.
In the world of health-conscious, grilled, skinless-boneless chicken breast fans, cooking duck breasts, with the fatty skin attached, may be distasteful. Bob Sparrow, the owner of Sparrow Meat and Produce in Kerrytown, sells a great deal of muscovy duck breasts for grilling and tells me to make sure to grill the duck breast with the skin attached. “The duck fat insulates the flesh, ensuring it remains plump, moist and juicy,” he said. Bob remarked I could remove the skin after grilling the breast, if I preferred.
Remove that inimitably flavorful crispy duck skin? Never! That’s my favorite part! This predilection of mine is vindicated by various websites. The Science of Cooking website, among others, touts duck fat as a healthier choice than, for example, butter. Still not convinced? Then remove the skin after grilling; you’ll still have a delicious dinner.
There’s only a couple of days left to enjoy the Traverse City Cherry Festival, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find Michigan cherries in area stores. I’ve noticed Plum Market, The Produce Station, Arbor Farms and Busch’s are now carrying Michigan cherries, while they last. Just ducky!