Last month, my wife's family took a vacation to Bayfield County, WI. I expected scenic views of Lake Superior, small town quaintness, sea caves and maybe some fresh cherries and fish. And I was right. And oh so wrong.
Bayfield County, by a series of cultural and geographical quirks, is paradise for those of us who consider ourselves foodies, particularly when interested in local food culture. The county (and I'll also include nearby Ashland, WI) sits on a peninsula that juts northward into Lake Superior, and includes the towns of Washington, Bayfield, Red Cliff and Cornucopia. In the center of this peninsula is an area about 4 miles north to south and 1 mile east to west where farmers can grow apples, raspberries, blue berries, sweet corn and most amazingly, sweet cherries (my in-laws house 400 miles south is too cold to grow sweet cherries, this really is an anomaly). And you can add to that fresh trout and whitefish caught right out of Lake Superior, beef, lamb, duck and chicken raised on area farms, and even a dairy, Tetzner's Dairy, that produces milk, cheese and ice cream.
Let me stop there so I can talk about Tetzner's. We first spotted them at the food co-op in Ashland, which was small but well stocked, where we got ice cream. We ate it on the way to a concert and quickly decided we needed more. A little researched showed us that this place was close and also had cheese. Our last day in town we went and it was worth it. The place is just a small outbuilding on a dairy farm, totally self service and homey. Clearly, this place was designed for locals, not tourists.
Another place I absolutely loved was the Bayfield Apple Company, just northwest of Bayfield. Here we sampled a few different products made from the apples grown on the farm, but it was the cider-both sweet and hard-that got my attention. As a local foodie, homebrewer, and economist, I have always wondered why cidering isn't as popular as winemaking in Minnesota. The owner showed us his rather impressive cidering operations (which he did in addition to selling apples for in-hand eating). The process supplies him with cider and the raw ingredients for apple butter and a few other jams. He's so good at using the whole product that 8 bushels of apples gives him only one gallon of waste (1 bushel of apples is at least 10 gallons), which he doesn't throw away but instead uses to deter animals from entering his orchards.
Perhaps the best part though about Bayfield was that local food was not just a consumer-tourist industry. Many, if not all of the restaurants used local ingredients and had rotating menu's. Be that the semi-casual South Shore Brewpub, the "you better have reservation's" Wild Rice, or the "do you think we have too many pink flamingos?" Maggie's right in Bayfield.
I could go on and on about pie's, wool, book stores, candy, bout tours and more, but I think I'll stop. It's not that far from Minneapolis, go there yourself! Here's some links to get you started:
Bayfield Chamber of Commerce: http://bayfield.org/
Bayfield Apple Company: http://www.bayfieldapple.com/