Since 1923, five generations of the Sailer family have owned and operated Sailer’s Food Market & Meat Processing Inc., and as many generations of Elmwood, Wis., residents have enjoyed the company’s hams, bacon and sausages. The fifth generation, Jake Sailer, has been involved with the management of the business since 1995, and he’s overseen new equipment purchases, the transition from a grocery store to a meat market and the relocation to a larger building. The quality, however, remains unchainged, as evidenced by the number of awards the company has won for its meat products, particularly its hams.

Sailer says that 90 percent of the hams the company produces are semi-boneless hams, along with 7 percent boneless hams and 3 percent a new commercial ham he began producing last year. He started producing a smaller, less expensive formed ham that could also be sliced and sold as deli meat.

“The only bone-in hams we sell are from the custom hogs that we do,” he says. “We process probably a little over 1,500 custom hogs a year.”

Sailer adds that the majority of hams Sailer’s Food Market produces come from hogs slaughtered by the company. He stresses the importance of quality pork in producing quality hams, and slaughtering the animals eliminates the risk of getting poor-quality PSE (pale, soft, exudative), pork from other producers. For Christmas and Easter holidays, Sailer says that he will buy shank hams and make them semi-boneless himself, to keep up with the demand. The hams are sold out of the company’s retail space, and several area grocery stores added them during the Christmas season.

Sailer says that the hams have to be visually appealing in order to sell well, so he takes extra care with the presentation.

“I’m so particular, that I clean up and hand-tie each one of those semi-boneless hams for Christmas and Easter, and then I double-net them, so they hang really nicely and have that nice shape,” he explains.

Sailer’s Food Market has also benefited from technology to improve the quality of its hams. Sailer says that his father used to artery-pump all the hams, which were more of a country ham style. Tired of hearing complaints that the bacon and hams were too salty, Sailer convinced his father to buy a tumbler and injector.

“Once we got that, we didn’t have to worry about missing any spots and having uncured spots in the middle of the ham,” he says. “Everything was consistent, everything got pumped evenly. We probably even upped our yield a little bit.”

Just because the production room has high-productivity equipment, it doesn’t mean that the hams are rushed through and sent straight to the smokehouse. After the hams come out of the tumbler, they set for at least two days before entering the smokehouse.

“That’s where you get your good cured meat color, and that good cured meat flavor development,” Sailer says. “I think it takes a little time for everything to set and the chemicals to work. If you look in my meat case and see all the nice, pink hams that I’ve got, that’s what it’s all about.”