Elmwood, Wis., population 810, may not have all the features of a large, urban metropolis, but it does have something that many cities wished they had: an award-winning, multi-generation, family-owned meat processing specialist. Sailer’s Food Market & Meat Processing has been satisfying its customers in the town and surrounding area since 1923, so the company has a pretty good grasp on what its customers want. When it comes to Sailer’s award-winning bacon, they’ll take “time-honored” over “hot and trendy.”
“We’ve never had anyone come in looking for a whiskey bourbon bacon or a raspberry chipotle bacon; they’re happy with what we offer, so I keep running with that,” says Jake Sailer, the fifth generation of the Sailer family who has operated the business. “I remember hearing, when this whole flavored bacon craze started coming down the pike, was ‘Don’t make too many flavored bacons, where it starts taking away from your good, quality bacon.’ That’s been my philosophy, because we do so well with our regular bacon, and I don’t want to get into competing against myself.”
It’s hard to argue with the company’s success. It regularly racks up awards at the state and national level for its cured meat products. Last year, its spicy pepperoni won both the Clarence Knebel Best of Show award at the American Cured Meat Championships and the Best of Show at the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors competition. Its bacon, ham, meat snacks, sausages and ring bologna have won awards as well.
Bacon is a particular specialty. The company has 10 types of bacon , from its original recipe to jowl bacon to a couple of formed products using venison and turkey. The best seller is still the original bacon developed by his grandfather. The recipe has been modified slightly to account for modern production practices and consumer preferences.
“My grandpa, coming from Austria and being German, liked salt. He really liked salt,” Sailer explains. “Back when he did it, it was more of a country-style bacon where they rubbed it, soaked it in cold water and then put it in the smokehouse. When I came in, we developed a bacon with the tumbler, so we got more precise about how much salt, sugar, maple and all the flavorings were added. We cut back on the salt, but yet, I still like salt right along with him. So, it has that salt bite to it, but you have that sweetness, too.”
The three types of flavored bacon Sailer’s makes all start with that original recipe. After being tumbled, the bellies will receive, depending on the flavor, a rub of cracked black pepper or dehydrated jalapenos. A third flavor has locally made maple-cinnamon sugar applied to it for customers who like their bacon a little sweeter.
“We dissolve that maple cinnamon sugar into our brine and also incorporate that right into the belly, and that gives you a less-salt, more-sugar taste, with a hint of cinnamon. When you’re frying that up, the aroma is phenomenal!” he comments.
Sailer’s also makes venison and turkey bacon, which are both ground and formed products. The ground venison-pork mixture is extruded onto a press, flipped onto a smokescreen and sent into the smokehouse. When it comes out, it’s sliced and shingled like pork bacon. The turkey bacon is a similar product that Sailer says was originally developed by Dave Van Hemelryk of Maplewood Meats. Sailer’s variation involves alternating a layer of ground turkey breast meat between two layers of ground turkey thigh meat.
“We’ll flip that over onto our jerky screens, and from there it goes through the smokehouse,” Sailer says. “It has a nice eye appeal, because that dark meat stands out from the white meat.”
Sailer’s has developed a natural bacon in response to a consumer demand for products free of added nitrites and nitrates. While the flavor profile differs from the conventional bacon, Sailer says that the look of the two products is very similar.
In spite of Elmwood’s small size, Sailer’s Food market still runs through several hundred pounds of bacon a week. It’s able to attract customers from several towns away for a simple enough reason. Its products and recipes are time-tested crowd-pleasers.
“There are three components to bacon: salt, sugar and smoke. That’s what you need for a good bacon,” Sailer says. “I think we might push the salt just a little bit, but the sugar and the smoke is perfect as far as I’m concerned.”