Saturday, November 17, 2007

LC's Pre-Holiday Shameless Commerce Division

One of my Constant Readers recently suggested that I write a post listing my picks for favorite regional food manufacturers. Because I am a shameless promoter of Michigan -- a state that needs all the help it can get these days -- and of supporting small-scale/home-based businesses that use locally grown, preferably organic, products, I am happy to oblige. So whether northern Michigan is a frequent destination for you, a place of fond memories of times past or some exotic destination you can't quite imagine apart from what descriptions and photos you find, in no particular order, are some ways to literally enjoy a taste of God's Country, Michigan Sector:

For a literal culinary trip to God's Country, check out the website of The Jampot, a bakery and preserve shop run by Eastern Orthodox monks in the Upper Peninsula village of Eagle River. Thimbleberries, a wild berry that's like a cross between a blackberry and raspberry, is a Yooper food specialty; check out the thimbleberry jam.

One of my favorite foodie destinations in the village of Leland is Stone House Bread , which offers a variety of artisan breads and other baked goods, including some really good granola. (If you ever physically visit Leland, the bakery is also a fab place to eat lunch -- their homemade soups are great.)

Forget the ubiquitous tourist fudge -- for a real chocolate indulgence, check out the website of Grocer's Daughter Chocolates . This is a tiny establishment in the village of Empire that makes the most amazing truffles and other chocolate specialities. If you have a very, very special chocoholic friend, these would make a luxurious gift; especially the more unusual flavors.

As I noted earlier here, Cherry Republic is a real delight. Do not be afraid of some of the more unusual cherry products, like cherry barbecue sauces and salsas; keep an open mind and enjoy.

For wine aficionados interested in up-and-coming wine regions, check out Michigan Wines for an overview of our regional wine industry. Fellow Traveler's and my personal favorites so far, based on our taste tests and the hosts' all-around niceness, are Blackstar Farms, Chateau Fontaine and Longview Winery -- the latter are tiny wineries, but keep in mind that good things are often found in small packages.

American Spoon Foods is another northern Michigan company that makes use of Michigan produce in its products...but for, I think, more interesting and unusual specialty foods, check out Food For Thought . Their wildcrafted foods, like wild leek relish and wild fruit jams, deserve a taste.

(Note: Speaking as a person of modest means myself...when I ask myself if pricey regional foods are really worth it, I consider that sometimes it's the seasonings and condiments that make a meal; so at our house it's often our investments in specialty foods that amp up the flavor of everyday dishes like chicken breast or pork chops or breakfast toast. And they tend to last a long time.)

And for fans of honey... Sleeping Bear Farms' Star Thistle Honey may become your very favorite honey...light and delicate and altogether yummy. (Star thistles, by the way, are those lavender-flowered weeds that grace roadsides and medians 'round about late August and September.) Sleeping Bear's sister company, Bedazzled, sells a variety of wonderful soaps made with bee products and herbs -- I can personally vouch for the peppermint soap as a great, bracing morning waker-upper.

For folks interested in wine...consider the up-and-coming wine region of northwest Michigan. The Michigan Wine website will give you an overview of our state's wine industry. (If you're looking for personal recommendations...Fellow Traveler and I had the best experiences, both in terms of wine tasting and in general hospitality, at Blackstar Farms, Chateau Fontaine and Longview Winery.)

Finally...if your interest in northern Michigan runs more toward the artistic than the culinary, do visit Presscraft Papers , legacy of northern Michigan artist and iconoclast the late Gwen Frostic. Her art captured the spirit of the wild places in northwest Michigan, and is very frameable (even the stationery).

I hope you have fun visiting these websites, and perhaps even patronizing/matronizing these businesses.

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