Cherry on Top

Every ingredient has a story to tell, and it’s that story that often is the cherry on top of some of your favorite sweet treats. That’s the case with Little Debbie brand’s beloved Cherry Pies, whose signature red tart cherries come from what is known as the “Cherry Capital of the World”— Traverse City, Michigan. No one knows cherries better than the generations of dedicated farmers who have made this northwest corner of the lower peninsula of Michigan their home and cherry growing their passion.

Nestled between Lake Michigan to the west and Grand Traverse Bay to the north, this cherry utopia offers an ideal climate and topography for bountiful harvests with the Great Lakes insulating the delicate cherry trees from the extreme winter temperatures typical of Northern Michigan. Holding up your left hand, the small area you see from the tip of your ring finger to the middle of your pinky finger paints a picture of what this cherry capital looks like on a map—a sliver of land that has become home to some of America’s largest and oldest cherry orchards.

In any given year, close to 250 million pounds of red tart cherries are grown in North America—75 percent coming from these northwestern Michigan communities, whose love of cherries is celebrated each year with a National Cherry Festival at the beginning of July. Festivities like cherry pie eating contests, parades and cherry pit spitting competitions bring both the fruit and the region to life.

It’s a feeling you may get when digging into a Little Debbie Cherry Pie and tasting bursts of the sweet-sour flavor that’s become the trademark of Montmorency cherries—the variety of tart cherry that is now a homegrown favorite. Each year, more than 94 percent of all Montmorency tart cherries that are consumed in the U.S. are grown in the U.S. But while Montmorency cherries are most often raised in the rich soil of local family farms, they get their name from across the Atlantic in a quiet valley located in the northern suburbs of Paris, France, where the fruit was first cultivated in the 18th century. Now, these red tart cherries have worked themselves into the hearts—and palates—of both Little Debbie customers and the generations-old American family farms whose hard work and love of the fruit make each bite taste that much richer.