Leelanau County has a gem: Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove Apple Orchard. There are apple orchards and cider mills all over Michigan, but Kilcherman’s is different. Owners John and Phyllis Kilcherman grow 240 different types of apples, many are considered heirloom.
A heirloom apple, also called an antique apple, comes from apple varieties that originated in the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s but are no longer available in most orchards. They are becoming almost “extinct” because they are no longer popular or marketed as well as more recent apple varieties such as the Gala (1934) or Honeycrisp (1991). When was the last time you purchased a Green Newton Pippin, a Winesap, or a Rambo? A Winesap was first produced in 1817 while the Newton Pippin dates back to the 1759. The Rambo came to the United States from France in the 1700’s, but its origins dates back to the late 1500’s. Kilcherman carries some extremely rare apple varieties with very distinctive flavors.
In 1955, Kilcherman purchased the dairy farm that he grew up on. He and his wife, Phyllis, began their business by growing strawberries. John Kilcherman started growing heirloom apples as a hobby. It was 30 years ago that Kilcherman started browsing catalogs looking for the “unusual” apple. He acquired cuttings from live trees all across the United States and abroad. He would then graft the cutting into existing rootstock. The grafted cutting grows into the rootstock and a young version of the heirloom tree is born. In time the new tree produces the antique fruit. He now grows almost 250 varieties of apples.
The Kilcherman’s sell their fruit out a barn on their farm north of Northport on the Leelanau Peninsula. The apples are hand bagged and put in quart containers on tables in an old wooden barn. Each apple variety is labeled with its name and a paragraph description of its origin, taste, and suggestions for how to eat or cook it. Apples can be purchased t the barn on the farm or online at the Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove website.
No apple orchard would be complete without the sweet smell and taste of apple cider. Kilcherman’s won’t disappoint you there either. They also produce their own blend of apple cider from over 20 different apple varieties. Phyllis Kilcherman has a goal to produce the best-tasting cider anywhere in the Midwest. Most visitors say she has succeeded.
There is another reason to visit Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove that many people don’t realize until they arrive at the barn to pick out their apples. The walls of the barn are lined with floor-to-ceiling shelving units filled with thousands historic soda pop bottles all shelved in alphabetical order. The Kilchermans have a collection of over 10,000 historic pop bottles that John claims is the largest collection in the world. He has more historic pop bottles than what is currently listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Vintage signs and cans hang from the rafters giving the barn a historic feel.
Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove Farm is open Setptember through November. It is located on Kilcherman Road north of downtown Northport. From Traverse City, take the beautiful scenic drive (M-22) along Grand Traverse Bay to Northport. Continue on County Road 201 through the village and go north one mile to County road 640. Go one half mile to Kilcherman Road, the first road on the left. Look for our windmill on the left. From Sleeping Bear Dunes, take M-22 north along the west side of the Leelanau Peninsula in to the village of Northport. From Northport, follow the same Traverse City directions.