Michigan tart cherry chutney & goat cheese crostini


Disclosure: The Cherry Marketing Institute invited me to attend a three-day educational tart cherry immersion event in Traverse City, Michigan. My travel and lodging expenses were covered by the Institute. My love of tart cherries is pure free will.

America's tart cherry country, otherwise known as Northern Michigan, is a land of rolling farm hills that tumble down to sandy beaches and the crystal blue shoreline of Lake Michigan. Row upon row of tart cherry orchards dot the scenery, their ruby-red fruit dangling like juicy gems in the summer sun. The moderate temperatures off the great lake make it possible to grow 70 to 75 per cent of U.S. tart cherries in the region each year, which makes it pretty much a dreamland for pie-makers and preservers like me. I had to fight the urge to go running through the hills with a gingham-lined basket and a goofy smile, collecting pounds and pounds of fresh cherries for homemade pies.

Despite the serenity of the surroundings, there's a lot going on in those hills when the cherries come ripe in July. At Cherry Bay Orchards, a family farm that spans 3,000 acres and several decades, crews work day and night to harvest 4-million pounds of tart cherries each year. It's a big job that's made faster by the use of mechanical harvesting. One machine gives the tree a vibrating shake, lasting mere seconds, while another machine catches the falling cherries on a conveyor belt before moving them to large bins of cold water to be trucked to a facility where they are rinsed with even colder water. If left as they are, tart cherries will begin to brown within a couple days, so over 99 per cent of the harvest is moved to processing within 24 hours, eventually ending up in grocery stores as frozen, dried and juiced cherry products.

Mechanical harvesting helps Cherry Bay Orchards produce 4-million pounds of tart cherries each year.
Our tour group, made up mostly of dietitians and food bloggers (including the delightful and talented Faith Durand of TheKitchn.com and Gaby Dalkin of WhatsGabyCooking.com), made our way through orchards, information, and more cherry-studded meals than I thought was possible. We were spoiled and a stop at Cherry Republic, a farm-themed cherry village where the motto is 'Life, Liberty, Beaches and Pie,' was the cherry on top. The restaurant serves cherries in every menu item, and the shop sells everything from cherry salsa and cherry jam to t-shirts and mugs that celebrate everything cherry. Essentially, these are my people.

Clockwise from top left: A truck for transporting cherries, cherry juice served at lunch, Cherry Republic, items from Cherry Republic (cherry BBQ sauce, cherry wine, cherry chocolate coffee)
There's a lot to be said for tart cherries. We've all heard about the health perks, such as their anti-inflammatory properties and relief of arthritis and gout. But, me being me, I'm mostly interested in how delicious they are. My favourite way to bake and cook with them is in their dried form. They are fabulously versatile and right at home in both sweet and savoury dishes.

This appetizer recipe for tart cherry chutney and goat cheese crostini combines tart, sweet and spicy flavours and blends creamy and crisp textures. The chutney is made quickly in a pan and left in the fridge until ready to dollop onto warm slices of toasted baguette spread with cool goat cheese. Each bite is a celebration of this unique super fruit.


Here's how I made it:
makes one dozen crostini

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cayenne
half a baguette
3 tbsp of olive oil
3.5 oz/100 g of soft goat cheese
12 fresh basil leaves

To make the chutney, I heat the onion in a non-stick skillet over medium-heat just until beginning to soften. I added the cherries, vinegar, sugar, cinnamon and cayenne and brought the mixture to a boil. The heat was reduced to medium and the chutney was simmered, stirring often, until thickened and slightly sticky (about 10 minutes). The chutney was transferred to a bowl and set aside in the fridge until ready to assemble the crostini.

To assemble the crostini, the baguette was sliced on an angle into 12 1-inch slices, which were placed on a baking sheet. The pieces were drizzled and tossed with the olive oil before going in a 400-degree preheated oven until golden brown (about 5 minutes). The goat cheese was sliced into 12 equal pieces and spread onto the toasted bread. The chutney was spooned equally over the goat cheese and each piece was topped with a basil leaf.


Leave a comment. What's your favourite way to use tart cherries?

16 comments:

  1. It was SO great meeting you! And these look to die for yummy :)

    Hope your travel home was good!!

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    1. Thanks, Regan. It was lovely meeting you too!

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  2. Amy, did you know that there are U-pick tart cherries here on the Saanich Peninsula? I picked 20 lbs myself just the other week. Fieldstone farm on Oldfield and there is another farm whose name I forget. Check it out in the Island Farm Fresh Guide!
    H
    PS the recipe looks delicious. I will be allotting some of my local sour cherry stash to this chutney!

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    1. Thanks for the supply tip, Heidi! I need to know how you pitted 20 LBS OF TART CHERRIES!!

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  3. Amy, these look as delicious as they were in real life. Are you doing the cherry balls next?? Those melted in my mouth!!

    Wonderful to meet and chat with you in MI.

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    1. Nice to spend some time with you too, Neva.

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  4. these were so yummy!! all of your pictures are amazing! so glad you had a good trip! xo

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    1. Glad you liked them. Thanks for taste-testing for me :)

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  5. gabriola dwellerJuly 25, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    i'll have to make a note of the sour cherries in victoria. i usually pit sour cherries by gently squeezing them and pulling on the stem and the seed pops out with the stem. most of the time. still haven't made my annual sour cherry pie. wish i could find some cherries nanaimo way. my niece in boston was lamenting her lack of sour cherries as well so i sent on your blog. i keep passing the word of your blog along. thanks again.

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    1. Thanks! If I ever decide to hire someone to do PR for my blog, I know who to call ;)

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  6. Hi there sour cherry lover! I live in the Michigan cherry area. I make a variety of sour cherry items. Probably my favorite is sour cherry jam, love to bake bread in the winter and heap on the jam and pretend it's summer again. I also like to pull out cherries from the freezer and make good, old fashioned cherry pie. I even put dried cherries in my stuffing when I make turkey. Your recipe looks wonderful and I will try it soon.

    One thing I'd like to mention, sour (tart) cherries are usually Montmorency cherries and have the flavor that most associate with cherry pie. I see quite a few recipes on blogs that just refer to cherries. I worry that some may buy the black sweet cherries by mistake, not realizing the difference. Black cherries are best eaten fresh and not cooked. You can cook them, but the flavor will not be anything like the regular sour cherry. The cherries that you can buy dried are almost always sour cherries and have been sweetened a little. I managed a store that sold fruit products and I was always explaining this to customers so I thought I would take this opportunity to explain this to anyone reading here.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your cherry passion, Nancy! I could chat tree fruit for hours.

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  7. Looks like you had a fabulous time Amy! I picked some sour cherries myself last weekend, in a friend's backyard here in Saskatoon. Alas, they still need to be pitted (me so busy!) but can't wait to turn them into some sort of pastry concoction. You know me and pastry :) Your chutney and crostini look deadly...perfect summer snackage :)

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  8. Very attractive post, but, as a fellow British Columbian, am a little disappointed that you featured cherries from Michigan when cherries, including sour cherries, are widely grown all across southern BC.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. While I'm a very proud British Columbian and make a habit of purchasing and writing about BC-grown produce regularly, my readers are based all over the world. In fact, the majority of my readers are in the U.S. So I try to be inclusive of issues and geographic areas. Don't we all enjoy the local food when we travel? Also, the Michigan tart cherry people generously invited me down to visit and see how tart cherries are grown, as did the Pacific Northwest tree fruit people last year. I've never been invited to any such event in BC.

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