You might call Jamie Roster a sour cherry aficionado. In 2005, along with her husband, Nick, she became the owner of The Cherry Stop, “the world’s largest selection of cherry food and gifts” in the heart of Traverse City, Michigan, which happens to supply 80% of the country’s sour cherry supplies.

The Cherry Stop is definitely a hands-on business. Along with picking local cherry processors that select cherries from nearby farms, Jamie comes up with new products to highlight the smooth, tart flavor of the berries. Keep reading to learn more about sour cherries and how you can use them to pump of the flavor of your recipes. After talking to Jamie, I used dried cherries to add a zing to my pico de gallo recipe–my kids loved it. And my husband kept asking, “What did you put in this, I like it.”

For more on cherries, here’s Jamie…

Can you explain the types of tart cherries available?

There are two types: Montmorency, which are the premiere cherries for making cherry pies, and Balaton cherries. Montmorency cherries have a red exterior and yellow flesh. They bruise easily once they’re picked. Balaton cherries have a darker skin and a burgundy color from skin to pit.  The Balaton cherries are larger and hardier than Montmorency but they’re not quite as tart. Balatons were originally from Hungary and through a collaboration with Michigan State, they were introduced here about 20 years ago.

How are tart cherries processed?

We’re not involved in the growing or the processing, but I can explain how it’s done. Typically tart cherries are shaken off the trees. There’s this machine that holds the tree and shakes the trunk so that the cherries fall into a canvas underneath. Then the cherries are placed into water containers on trucks. They’re very fragile, so farmers have to be careful transporting them. But the cherries go right from the tree into the processor or they’re frozen. Tart cherries have to be processed very quickly. They don’t last very long off the tree.

What about the cherry products offered at your store?

Our cherry jams are a staple. And our cherry salsa is incredibly popular: it’s tomato based with a little tart and a little spice. Our old-fashioned cherry butter… But we’re constantly coming up with new product ideas.

How do you create new cherry products?

My husband and I are pretty much hands-on in every aspect of production. It’s either my ideas, or my husband’s. At home, we come up with crazy things and try them out in small batches until we perfect the recipe. That’s how I came up with cherry ginger jam. You have to try it—it’s a phenomenal jam. We also have a new product we’ve called ‘cherry catsup,’ but that’s misleading because it’s very versatile—you can use it for everything from pork chops to ice cream.

What should cooks know about using cherries?

The big thing is not to be afraid of trying out something new—cherries are so versatile, whether it’s for something sweet or savory. Cherries compliment other flavors instead of overwhelming them.

To find just about anything “cherry” from jams to t-shirts, you can visit The Cherry Stop in Traverse City or order their products online. And for those of you looking for a unique Father’s Day present, Jamie mentioned she gets more than one call around June asking if they ship fresh, frozen, tart cherries. The answer? You bet.

Next week I’ll have Jamie’s recipe for Cherry Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies available for you to try!

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