If there’s one thing we love about Michigan, it’s the fall season. Leaves falling and changing colors, cooler weather, and of course, apple picking in the fall. This year, we decided to take on a huge task: to rank some of the best known orchards and cider mills in our area.
We know what you’re thinking: how can you possibly pit orchards and mills together in a battle royale of the apple variety? Well, it was no easy feat, but we managed to look at several factors to test their mettle, including:
How much can you expect to spend at one of these places? We didn’t have a particular budget in mind for each place, but we did take notice if our pockets were lighter at one place vs. another.
Most orchard/mill trips are family occasions, so we made sure to add this into the mix. Questions such as ‘did they have any entertainment for the kids? If so, what seemed more of a joy for families?’ were considered as we observed each place.
Was the staff friendly and willing to help?
How easy was it to get to these orchards/mills? Was it an easy walk? We thought of things from the perspective of ‘could grandma walk this’ and also took into effect the handicap-ready aspect of the sites.
Quality of Product:
This measure was a more subjective one, but we thought it was important nonetheless. Was the apple variety good? How about the donuts and cider?
In classic ‘back to school’ fashion, we evaluated each place according to these factors, and gave a 1-10 grade. So, without further ado, here are the scores for the apple barons in our area.
Oh, and just one more thing (in true Apple fashion): We’ve broken down ‘Quality of Product’ into the categories of:
Best Apple Cider
Best Variety of Apples
Because what’s an orchard/cider mill trip without cider and donuts? So let’s get started!
Location: Linden, MI
Located off of pleasant country roads, Mueller’s cider mill is an easy, no stress drive up Linden road. On the weekends, they have a farmer’s market outside where local vendors sell their wares under tents, a musician performs and they have activities for kids including a small play place near the barn. Inside their store, they sell their apples (Mueller’s has their own variety of apple as well) in large crates where you can fill a peck yourself. They also have a variety of jams, butters and salsas. Although not all the prepared goods are made at Mueller’s, they are made locally. They sell homemade doughnuts and cider of course, and their apple doughnut was a favorite amongst our crew. The staff was pleasant and helpful, and the environment was enjoyable. We chose the blondie and Mueller apples and both varieties were good eating apples with textures more similar to red delicious. Mueller’s also has a wedding venue site that is beautiful (and fully booked for the 2018 season!).
Price – 8/10 – We found the price on most items to be pretty close to the average prices we observed at the other orchards or mills. You can get a half peck of apples for under $5 and the donuts were a meager 75 cents per donut.
Family Friendliness – 9/10 – With all the family-related activities going on, we’re happy to give this one a high grade. The farmer’s market style vendor area and play place for the kids makes Mueller’s a great place to get farm-fresh apples while entertaining the whole family.
Customer Service – 8/10 – The staff members we encountered were friendly. We first approached the doughnut ordering line and spoke with the staff there, afterwards making our way to the cashier where we made pleasant conversation with the register attendant. We found everything regarding customer service was well within satisfactory.
Accessibility/Walkability – 8/10 – We’re glad to report that Mueller’s has a parking lot right in front of their barn/building, so that immediately gives them a high score in our book. However, their overflow parking is across a rather busy road which may be a challenge when helping an elderly family member or child make it across. The farmer’s market is right up front by the parking lot which is another convenient feature.
Quality of Product – 8/10 – The donuts were excellent and the cider was good. Maybe not our favorite cider, but it can definitely hang with some of the better ones. The apples were great, and we found more value in the sweetness of their apples (especially their Mueller’s variety of apple), which may be a better fit for just eating rather than baking.
OVERALL RATING: 8.2/10
Parshallville Cider Mill
Location: Parshallville, MI
Nestled within the quiet rural community of Parshallville lies the historic Parshallville Cider Mill. If you are a fan of Greenfield Village, this is a great cider mill to visit! It showcases its historic origins and is located alongside a beautiful creek where you can enjoy your fresh cider and doughnuts and take in the charming scenery. Parshallville has older apple varieties you won’t find at other orchards, and being the curious culinarians we are, we decided to give them a try. We chose the Gravenstein apple and it was a great baking apple, or, if you’re like us and you prefer your apples with full flavor, slightly tart, firm, with medium thick skin, this is a great eating apple as well! Their cider was very good, although their doughnuts left a bit to be desired. The environment was pleasant given the scenery, historic mill, and ease of parking, along with the fact that it wasn’t packed to the gills on Saturday morning.
Price – 8/10 – We got ourselves a half peck of apples that cost us around $7, pretty close to the average prices we observed at other mills, but it was an heirloom variety.
Family Friendliness – 7/10 – You won’t find any play structures for the kids at this mill, but I think it has value as a historical piece for the family to enjoy. It definitely will be a trip to remember as the mill is impressively large and has a pretty neat history. We observed families eating their donuts/apples and drinking their cider outside on picnic tables near the creek, which is a nice feature. The shop inside the mill is rather small, however, so getting a family to mosey on through may be a challenge.
Customer Service – 8/10 – The staff members were friendly. Nothing stood out as highly above average or below average in the way of customer service.
Accessibility/Walkability – 8/10 – The parking is closeby, which is the biggest ‘plus’ for the accessibility/walkability of the mill. Also, you can quite easily access it, as it is located just a minute from Old US 23. In the front entrance of the mill you will find a handicap accessible ramp which definitely ups the accessibility factor.
Quality of Product – 9/10 – The cider was definitely one of our favorites, as it had a good balance of sweetness and spice. We decided to use the Gravenstein apples for our apple pie and they produced a perfectly balanced sweet and tart flavor for a pie. The donuts weren’t as impressive as some of the others, but they definitely did the job to satisfy a sweet tooth.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10
Location: Fenton, MI
Spicer’s has always been a heavy hitter in the local apple season scene, attracting thousands of visitors to the quaint Fenton/Hartland area. We ourselves have been going to Spicer’s for over 20 years now and it’s a family tradition to take a yearly trip and enjoy the sights and scenes of the orchard. That all said, we were resolute in our dedication to remain as impartial as possible when giving our Spicer’s rating! Just because one location is near and dear to our hearts does not mean we can pick favorites, so we made certain to keep things in check with this review.
Located just off of US 23, Spicer’s Orchard is very easy to access to and has ample parking, which they seem to be expanding constantly as the orchard’s popularity grows. Spicer’s stands out in the local apple orchard/mill scene because of the fact that they are a u-pick orchard, meaning that you are able to walk right up to their trees and pick apples for yourself. For us, this is a feature that truly sets them apart as most will not allow you to walk their orchards grounds and pick the apples yourself. This must be a huge draw for others as well, because when we went on a saturday, the place was PACKED. Spicer’s has been popular for a while now but the added volume of visitors does add a unwanted complexity to the trip. We find that the best way to beat the crowds is to get there as soon as it opens. This year, we weren’t as lucky and went around noon, which we can definitely say is a busy time! Try getting there earlier if possible to avoid the crowds. As for entertainment, Spicer’s is second to none, boasting a large play place and petting zoo for kids (entry fee required), u-pick apples(entry fee required as well), a wine tasting room (yup, they make wines), a large store and their own farmer’s market vendor area. They’re the only orchard around that offered pumpkin doughnuts, so that was a must-try for us! Spicers has also opened a fudge counter with a marvelous collection of artisan fudge (try the pumpkin praline) along with their caramel and candied apples, popcorn, and selection of jams, butters, sauces and dressings.
Price – 6.5/10 – Expect your wallet to get a bit lighter if you’re taking a trip to Spicer’s. There’s an entry fee for the play place, and you might find yourself purchasing quite a bit a their store. For U-pick, we paid $16 for a peck of their cheaper variety of apples and had to pay an extra dollar for each person in our group to walk through their orchard. When asked, they said it was a sampling fee’ to cover their losses from people sampling/eating apples while they picked, along with the cost of the hayride.
Family Friendliness – 9.5/10 – You truly cannot find a better place to take the kids for apple picking season. They have the play place/petting zoo, the store, the farmer’s market and hayrides to pick apples. We had to give them slightly below a perfect score, simply because it may be difficult to keep your group together in the huge crowds. Otherwise this is a surefire way to please the whole family.
Customer Service – 9/10 – The staff was pleasant and kind. While we were taking pictures of their fudge counter, one of the employees offered us samples which was a nice touch. The cashier was friendly and charming despite the never-ending lines. We anticipated the possibility of a stressed out workforce, but experienced the exact opposite. It almost seemed, to us, like they were happy to play to the crowd. The only caveat here was with the u-pick experience. We didn’t have a bad experience, but they placed staff near some rows of apples and placed signs next to them. When we headed out, we noticed that they didn’t clearly mark the rows of trees past the first rows with the workers. We were left wondering what apple varieties we were looking at, which was a bit of an impediment.
Accessibility/Walkability – 8/10 – It’s right off US 23, which is what gives Spicer’s the bulk of its score here. I must say, with the crowds and the amount of walking, it may be difficult for an elderly person or someone with a handicap to make it through. There is a small amount of parking right up front, but unless you get there incredibly early, don’t expect to find a space there. For the u-pick, there are hayrides that help with the mobility factor, but going on foot is quite a bit of walking, so be prepared for that (sneakers!)
Quality of Product – 7/10 – Their cider was excellent, however the donuts we experienced weren’t great. Normally we can count on a slightly higher quality of donut, but we must remain impartial as we experienced a substandard donut this year. It was caked with cinnamon sugar on the outside which resulted in a grittiness while eating. However, this was our first time sampling their fudge and it was delicious. We also purchased an apple cider slushie that was well satisfying. The apples themselves were excellent, as always. Another great feature that wasn’t available at other orchards that our chef capitalized on was the bushels of discounted utility apples, which are great for baking, stewing, making cider, etc.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10
Location: Howell, MI
It’s sad to note that although some of us grew up in Howell, this year was our first visit to Markillie Orchards. Like Mueller’s, it’s more of a storefront where they sell their apples, jams, cider and doughnuts. It’s a simple drive up Latson road in Howell, and though the storefront isn’t very large, there is ample parking up front. We stopped by around 2 pm on a Saturday and got a parking space right in front. It’s very charming, very easy to get to, and the employees were very friendly and helpful. Their prices were the best we encountered and they had heirloom varieties of apples. One of the best things about Markille was the doughnuts, as they had different flavors and you could mix and match, and, knowing us, we had to make it difficult, but having the choice of blueberry, cherry, cinnamon and plain was fantastic. We picked up some cider to taste, some local honey in cute little bear jars, and some very interesting flavors of jam (might be back for more!). Markille, although small, was a very pleasant experience.
Price – 10/10 – We found this to be the least expensive location we visited, with donuts at 75 cents apiece and a quart of apple cider for $2.75 (a very good deal). You won’t be disappointed with these prices and you get surprisingly good quality products for what you pay.
Family Friendliness – 8/10 – Though it’s a small place, they do have a small play place out back for kids to use. However, there’s not too much that can be done here in the way of family time, at least no farmer’s market or petting zoos.
Customer Service – 9/10 – The customer service was great, and the employees we spoke to were all very kind. They were very accommodating and made small talk with us as we purchased our items, and remembering our ridiculously complex doughnut order.
Accessibility/Walkability – 8/10 – Markillie’s has a parking lot right in front of their barn/building, so that immediately gives them a high score. There’s not much walking to do here, so it’s an easy, short walk from the front parking lot to the storefront.
Quality of Product – 9/10 – The donuts were very good, with a crisp outer shell/coating and a warm, soft, cake interior. The apples were on par with many of the other orchards and the cider was good as well. All of the products were good, but the donuts were exceptional.
OVERALL RATING: 8.8/10
So there you have it, our 2017 orchard/mill review. Markillie Orchard, our first year candidate, ending out on top for the win this year. I would most definitely visit them if you have not already and take advantage of their high quality products and great customer service. All of the orchards/mills did great in our book however, earning an 8/10 or above. We would recommend a visit to all four if possible, but use the reviews accordingly to decide which you might want to visit this year.
What’s that? We forgot something, you say? Oh yes, the ‘best of’ categories! We are proud to present the ‘best of’ products for the cider mills/orchards this year. And the winners are:
Best Cider: Spicers – Not much of a surprise here, as Spicers has been perfecting their recipe for years and it shows. It was our favorite cider, with a tasty blend of apples with the perfect amount of spice. Not too sweet, not too spicy. Just right.
Best Doughnuts: Markillie – We take our donuts very seriously, so this was truly a tough choice. In the end though, Markillie’s had the most crispy exterior, softest center, and tastiest flavors, both in the coating and the dough. They must use a very good oil to cook the donuts in as it wasn’t too heavy and the donuts tasted fresh off the line.
Best Environment: For us, this award goes to Parshallville. It just had a beautiful location, a beautiful mill, and it wasn’t packed, so we could take our time and enjoy ourselves. As much as we love Spicer’s beautiful, sprawling orchard, it has turned into a carnival, and it takes a lot of energy to go there, whereas Parshallville has a wonderful calm, serene landscape and old-world charm.
Best Varieties of Apples: This definitely goes to Spicer’s. Battle the crowds and get some beautiful common varieties of apples in the market or mix and match your own at the u-pick. We also appreciated their bushels of utility apples (so great for the baker, the applesauce maker, juicer and any way you want to process the oh-so-versatile apple). While we really appreciated the heirloom and rare varieties you could get at Parshallville and Markillie, (and we definitely would purchase eating apples there) for our main stock we went straight for the discounted bushels of utility empire and honeycrisp at Spicer’s.