Louis E. Muench, president of Louie's Finer Meats, Inc., in Cumberland, was named the 2017 Wisconsin Distinguished Agriculturalist by the UW-River Falls College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at the college's 51st Annual Scholarship and Awards Banquet April 20.
Louie's Finer Meats is well known in northwestern Wisconsin with all the vacationers heading to cabins. On any given summer weekend, a Friday afternoon visit finds customers taking numbers to be served. Customers know the wait is worth it.
Over the years, Louie's Finer Meats has won nearly 500 awards at state, national and international competitions for their meat products. Most of these awards were earned under the vision and management of Muench, the second generation to run this family business. In 2016, Louie's Finer Meats participated in the first international competition held in the U.S. through an alliance between the German Butcher's Association and the American Association of Meat Processors. Of the 27 entries they submitted, 20 received gold medals, 7 received silver medals.
Muench is known as an innovator. He was one of the first to use non-meat ingredients, and his Wisconsin Summer Sausage that incorporated cranberries, cheddar cheese, maple syrup and honey won the best-of-show award in 1991 from the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors. Muench has been an invited instructor for numerous industry workshops and seminars.
Dean Henderson, professor emeritus of Animal and Food Science at UW-River Falls, who nominated Muench for the award, and collaborated with him in a number of meat processing workshops over the years said, "Louie's philosophy is to grow the industry by quality. He keeps no secrets; he will help others in any way."
Although Muench grew up in the family business, it wasn't assured that he would follow in his father's footsteps. In accepting the award, Muench shared a few anecdotes about his time as a student at UW-River Falls.
"I was in the line for students who were undecided about their major when Dean Henderson heard me say I can cut meat and make sausage and without me completing any formal application, he hired me to work in the lab," Muench said. "At the time the food science facilities were in the basement of May Hall and I still feel I deserve hazard pay for having to move snack sticks past those hungry college students living there."
He alluded to some of the hardships in the family business over the years and commented that not taking oneself too seriously helped get them though. Muench left no doubt though that Louie's Finer Meats takes their products and customers seriously.
"There's a lot to consider in the meat industry," he said. "It's competitive, the product is perishable, and consumer preferences are ever changing. What keeps us going is our focus on quality and customer service."
Muench has been inducted into the Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame and the National Cured Meats Hall of Fame, and was a member of the inaugural class of Wisconsin Master Meat Crafters. He has served as an invited judge for multiple state professional association competitions, and held elected office within state and national meat industry organizations. In July, he will assume the presidency of the American Association of Meat Processors.
Within his home community of Cumberland, Muench is known as a philanthropist. He is active in much community, civic and church groups including the Cumberland Kiwanis and the Jaycees, the Cumberland Utility Commission and the Planning Commission, and the UW-Barron County Foundation Board. He served as a scoutmaster for 25 years, earning the Chippewa Valley Good Scout Award. He and his wife were recognized as the Cumberland Chamber of Commerce Citizens of the Year in 1999. Muench not only gives his time to community initiatives, he created Louie's Brat Haus, a portable food stand that non-profit organizations use each weekend for fundraising.
The Wisconsin Distinguished Agriculturalist Award was established in 1970 to recognize individuals who have provided leadership, service and other contributions to the broader agricultural community. A charcoal sketch of each honoree hangs in the Agricultural Hall of Fame in the Agricultural Science building on campus. To see previous honorees, visit www.uwrf.edu/CAFES/Awards.cfm.