This is peak season for you, cherry lovers, and no doubt you're taking full advantage of it. The little drupes, or fleshy stone fruit, start turning up for sale toward the end of May and arrive in markets in waves through early to mid August. Washington State is by far the biggest producer of sweet cherries, with an assist from California and the Pacific Northwest, while Michigan is the epicenter of sour cherry growing. If you live a charmed life in a hospitable climate with a little bit of land, you can grow infinite varieties of cherries. The rest of us will just have to make to with the ones that make it to farm stands, farmers' markets, and grocery stores. These are the kinds of cherries you're most likely to see for sale.
If someone says cherry—and they do pretty frequently this time of year—Bing cherries are most likely what they mean. This sweet, dark red cultivar was named after an orchard foreman named Ah Bing, and it's the most-produced cherry in the US. These are the cherries that you'll buy by the bagful at markets, and that bakers will tuck into their pies, jams, and pastries.
There are, however, a few more dark, sweet cherries that could easily be mistaken for Bings, and cherry aficionados—you should grab them while you can. Lambert cherries are small and heart-shaped, with a flavor and texture akin to Bings. Chelan cherries (sometimes called black cherries) show up a little bit earlier in the market than Bings and are large and a bit rounder. Large, sweet Lapin cherries scoot in a bit later—only for a week or two—and have a slightly mahogany skin. Tulare cherries are a bright, tart, close cousin of the Bing, but don't make it very far afield due to their tendency to split during transit.
Rainier cherries are the sometimes red-blushed yellow or peach-colored cherries you'll briefly see at the market. They're a cross of Van and Bing cherries, and tend toward the very sweet. Use them anywhere you'd like a slightly lighter hue—if you can keep from downing the whole bag in one sitting.
The majority of sour cherries—often Montmorency cherries and occasionally Morello cherries—are sold to put into pie fillings, so devotees who are lucky enough to find them fresh will hoard them during their cruelly brief season. They're small, soft, tender-skinned, and a stunningly scarlet, unmistakeable for any other kind of cherry—especially when you pop them in your mouth, wince for just a second at the tartness, and dive in for another handful.