Pinconning: Cheese Capital on Michigan's Route 13
A Unique Regional Cheese Tour
Along the Great Lakes Circle Tour through Michigan, you'll find the home of Pinconning cheese. Developed as early as 1915 on farms along Michigan's Route 13, this product, named after a town and a river, is a favorite across America.
The specialty cheese was originally developed by aging a semi-soft Colby cheese from cow's milk, but it is now available in yellow and white varieties from one-week-old mild cheese curds to pungent, extra sharp bricks. The sharpest of its kind is aged for 10 to 16 years.
In the early 1900s, this product was aged in fruit cellars, since refrigeration was scarce. The cellars maintained a temperature a little above refrigeration, resulting in a unique flavor.
Pinconning is a Chippewa/Ojibwe word that means "Where the wild potatoes grow."— The Ojibwe People's Dictionary
The most historic cheese purveyor along M-13 is also the most expensive. Pinconning Cheese Store & Fudge Shoppe sits on the site of the original farm and cheese outlet that opened in 1915.The staff is happy to talk with you about the history of the area, but the cheeses can cost well over $20.00 per pound.
Another outlet with hundreds of types of cheese that include an array of Pinconning varieties made on the site is Williams Cheese Company, where I often shop. The staff is always friendly and free samples are everywhere!
Dozens of sample trays sit next to the bins of cheeses at Williams, and the production floor is visible through large glass windows. Samples of jams, jellies, crackers, Amish breads, beef sticks, and sausages are also offered to guests. This is my favorite shop on the Lake Huron tour.
Best Cheese Shops Along M-13
Open seven days a week. This is my favorite of the shops and garners dozens of positive reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor websites.
A good variety of food and non-food products are on display here and the prices are a little higher than at the Williams shop.
An annual cheese festival is held across the street in June.
This store seems a little high priced and is not as popular with the locals.
Williams Cheese Shoppe and Factory Outlet
The Williams store is a grocery and sandwich shop located just 20 minutes north of Bay City along M-13. The pleasant trip parallels the shores of Saginaw Bay into Lake Huron, with several side roads that take you to primitive beaches and picnic areas for walking and birding activities.
Many small shops and other attractions fill M-13 from historic Bay City, where old mansions of the original lumber barons still stand, north to Standish, but the Williams site is my favorite.
I drive to the Pinconning area often to purchase a variety of cheeses I cannot find in Ohio. Williams products are moderately priced and the store maintains a discount case full of odd sizes of cut up cheese ends and even cheese curds.
Amish Country brand cheeses are popular here as well made by local communities. The Williams company make, ages and packages its own products that add up to over 5,000,000 pounds of cheeses every year.
The Williams proprietors have used their own recipe for regional Pinconning cheese since the company was opened in 1945 by James and Janina Williams in an old barn. Today, an iconic giant fiberglass cow welcomes customers at the main entrance, seen in the accompanying video.
The cheeses I always purchase include Hot Jalapeno Pepper, Green Onion Ranch, Sharp & Creamy, Garden Vegetable, Horseradish, Roasted Garlic, Green Olive and others. On every trip, a new flavor has been added to the offerings.
Grandma's Cheese Bread is particularly flavorful and my favorite among the baked goods. The pickled eggs are delicious as well. I always see customers purchasing a selection of products for an impromptu picnic in the parking lot.
Wilson Cheese Company
This smaller store is located at 130 N. Mable Street and is the oldest cheese shop in Michigan, open since 1939. It became popular with the rise of the state highway system and the emerging travel fad of meat and cheese shops in the 1950s.
Wilson's is still well known today for its regional cheese, but carries a line of other cheeses and a large array of gourmet specialty and gifts items. The staff will gladly make up cheese trays to your liking for parties and gift boxes.
The service in the shop is friendly and the gift area is larger than that of Williams, but prices are higher. The Wilson store features T-shirts, hats, plaques, picture post cards, calendars, mugs, stuffed animals, maps, area guidebooks, and a number of other popular items.
The Pinconning Cheese Co. and Fudge Shoppe
This attraction is an actual full block of shops and a restaurant that face M-13 at 221 N. Mable Street, 500 feet north and on the opposite side of the road from the smaller Wilson Cheese Company.
This large cheese and fudge shop offers the regional products and a large number of others like specialty meats, a cafe for specialty sandwiches, pickled bologna, and their "World Famous Pizza Loaves."
- The Wall of Fire! This is the number one attraction of the store. One entire wall of shelves are filled floor-to-ceiling with hundreds of varieties of hot sauces, salsas, barbecue toppings, and the "Pinconning Paralyzer", reportedly the hottest sauce in the state. A friend of mine has collected most of these on shelves that fill one wall of his kitchen.
- Gourmet coffees.
- Homemade Amish pastas, fudge, candies, jams and jellies, honey and maple syrup.
- Locally produced venison sausage and specialty jerky treats (turkey, duck, and goose); locally raised spiral cut hams.
- Smoked Fresh Water Fish caught locally.
- Specialty pickles, olives and favored mustard.
- Specialty custom gift boxes containing any of the products in the store can be made on the spot.
Other Sights of the Lake Huron Circle Tour on M-13
The Great Lakes Circle Tour of Lake Huron includes Bay City, I-75, US-23 and Michigan Route 13, all full of places to see.
This facility began expansion and reconstruction in 2016.
I visited this Chippewa casino and although it was fun to watch, the facility was free from non-smoking laws and very smokey. The cafe is 24/7/365.
The cheese tour section of M-13 is populated with shops, boutiques, a nature preserve, primitive beaches, and several semi-developed beach districts. Among the latter, like Alameda and White's Beach (visible on the map above), I have found cafes that feature their own homemade ice creams, gourmet coffees, a small book shop or two, and souvenir gift shops.
The Bay County Bus System and Indian Trails buses serve this section of M-13 between Bay City and Standish Monday through Friday at $1.00 and $9.00 per trip respectively. The county bus route includes Pinconning Park and the local Chippewa casino as well as several other stops, and the other bus is an express without stops.
Pinconning Road Center
Just north of the Williams shop is the Pinconning Branch of the Bay County Library System, which anchors a hub of attractions. The branch is an inviting oasis with friendly staff and a living-room type arrangement that features armchairs, attractive floor and table lamps, a fireplace and a wide selection of periodicals and newspapers.Internet access is free and the selection of book titles is extensive.
This library complex is the central activity area for the town, with a Bay City bus stop, a US Post Office, other government and social agencies, and shops behind the library.
This branch at 218 S. Kaiser Street is at the intersection of W. 4th Street, one block north of 5th Street. East of M-13, the street becomes E. Pinconning Road, leading to the Pinconning Nature Preserve a mile east of the library and the surprising Pinconning Park another mile to the east.
While you cannot see it all from M-13, the park includes a well developed beach, a boardwalk, showers, 56 modern campsites and six log cabins. The area is a beautiful place to spend a day or longer.
A few miles northward, a Chippewa casino is a fun place to visit and the nearby town of Standish has a preserved Michigan Central Railroad Depot to visit. This is the end of the line of Michigan Cheese Country and I enjoy it every time I visit M-13.
- Conversations with staff of Williams Cheese Shop and Factory Outlet, 2003 - 2011.
- Conversations with the The Michael Thomas Family, longtime residents of Mid-Michigan and connoisseurs of fine cheeses.
- Great Lakes Circle Tour: Lake Huron Circle Tour. www.greatlakescircletour.org/tours/lhct.html Retrieved May 15, 2010.
- Guided tours of M-13 by Beverly Franklin, June 2004 and June 2011.
Questions & Answers
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS