Cruising for Cuisine

Sampling in the wine cellar at Fenn Valley. Photo by John Roberts Williams.

It’s not hard to find locally sourced, seasonal foods in southwest Michigan, but it never hurts to have a guide either. The editors of Michigan Travel Ideas tagged along on a culinary tour hosted by David Geen, founder of Hungry Village Tours in Saugatuck, during which they learned from the farmers, vintners and chefs who produce some of the region’s best (and often organic) food and wine. The six-hour tour explores how the farm-to-fork philosophy manifests in one of the nation’s most diverse agricultural regions. Tours run Tuesday through Saturday (May to October); call for reservations (269/857-1700; admission charged).

Most of these destinations welcome non-tour visitors; call the farms before dropping in to visit.

Overview: Delicious Drive Culinary Tour

Saugatuck Center for the Arts, Saugatuck. Housed in the original factory for the Harris Pie Company, the downtown art center makes an ideal starting point (269/857-2399).

Stop 1: Dee’s Lakeshore Farm, Glenn. Dee Karaus and her husband, Don, live on a large fruit farm that has been in the family for more than 50 years. She sells seasonal fruit and preserves, homemade sausage and jars of honey from her two-stall garage. A daily spoonful of the rich, sweet nectar is said to alleviate allergies (616/227-3287).

Stop 2: Fenn Valley Winery, Fennville. Surrounded by towering maples and fields of vineyards, the roads around Fenn Valley are just as popular with bicyclists, motorcyclists and equestrians as they are with oenophiles. By national standards, the winery is small, but has grown in quantity and quality over the past decade. Participants sample six to eight of the estate-bottled wines while learning how the moderating lake effect makes west Michigan an ideal climate for wine making (269/561-2396).

Stop 3: Pleasant Hill Farm, Fennville. For more than 30 years, Joan Donaldson and John Van Voorhees have been cultivating organic blueberries. Their claim to fame is blueberries, but they also homesteaded the farm—they felled trees and built buildings. The couple also grows and harvests their food, cooks on a wood stove, sews their clothes and taps dozens of maple trees. Purchase a Mason jar of maple syrup before getting back on the road (269/561-2850).

Executive chef Matthew Pietsch at Salt of the Earth tops a blueberry sundae. Photo by Kevin Miyazaki.

Stop 4: Salt of the Earth, Fennville. The (usually) dinner-only fine-dining spot serves tour participants a three-course lunch. Chefs create a special meal that brings the drive’s farm-to-fork idea to fruition. After lunch, chef Matt Pletsch takes participants on a tour of the kitchen and answers questions (269/561-7258).

Stop 5: Fernwood Farm, Fennville. This sustainable farm raises free-range chickens, ducks, geese and grass-fed cattle. Owners Rob and Dawn Soltysiak sell surplus eggs and veggies; check their roadside sign for what’s available (269/236-9260).

Stop 6: Evergreen Lane Farms, Fennville: On a twisty road outside of town, visitors find an artisanal creamery. Cathy Halinski, owner and chief cheese maker, focuses on making just a few varieties, such as chèvre, Camembert and the semihard Poet’s Tomme. Most of the creamy cheeses are made with milk from her organic-fed La Mancha goats, a Spanish breed known for producing large quantities of high-quality milk (269/543-9900).