Walk into Sailer’s Food Market & Meat Processing in Elmwood (pop. 800), and one of the first things you’ll notice are the awards—they fill two walls. Blue ribbons are also affixed to the meat case, near their prize-winning products. On top of the meat counter are trophies. One of the newest ones commemorates the induction of Jake Sailer into the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) Cured Meats Hall of Fame in 2018.
Wisconsin is best known nationally for cheese quality, but meat matters here too. Sailer, the fifth-generation owner of this meat market in Pierce County, was the 14th Wisconsin butcher added to the hall of fame.
“We take a lot of pride in what we make,”he says.“Wisconsin, by far, does the best of any meat association in the country.” He says the expectation of quality is especially high for sausage, ham and bacon products.
At least 240 licensed meat establishments do business in Wisconsin, and the state’s annual meat products competition is the largest in the nation. Just about one-fourth of the AAMP hall of fame inductees are in Wisconsin.
Top performers tend to do business in small towns. Consider Louie’s Finer Meats in Cumberland, located in Barron County. This meat shop has won over 550 state, national and international awards. That includes the grand prize for sausage during this year’s International Meat Trade Fair in Germany. The Muench family, whose products include 100 kinds of bratwurst, hosts a one-day Wurstfest—food, beer and games— every September (this year it’s on Sept. 14).
International honors this year for Lake Geneva Country Meats, just outside of Lake Geneva near the Wisconsin-Illinois border, included a trophy for overall product excellence. Founders John and Rita Leahy even got credit during a 2003 Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame induction for helping to make family-run markets like theirs “the envy of those in other states.”
Now a younger generation runs the show at Lake Geneva Country Meats, and best-sellers are a mix of the traditional and unexpected. In the latter category: cherry bratwurst, which contains a beef-pork mix with a seasoning that is a family secret.
A NEW WAVE OF ARTISAN BUTCHERS
Consider this trio of nuevo butcher shops that are making a tasty mark on the world of charcuterie. Each works with small farms where animals are raised responsibly. Environmentally sustainable farming practices are a priority, too.
Bavette La Boucherie, Milwaukee: Karen Bell learned the trade through 20 years of work in cities from Chicago to Caracas. In 2013, she opened this restaurant with a “whole carcass” approach. She was a James Beard Best Chef: Midwest semifinalist in 2018. bavettelaboucherie.com
The Conscious Carnivore, Madison: Consumer education is a part of business as usual. Choices include heritage pork, grass-fed beef, soy-free chicken and no artificial hormones or antibiotics in meats. Save by buying in bulk; meat cutting advice is available. conscious-carnivore.com
Underground Butcher, Madison: Jonny Hunter, nicknamed “culinary warrior” by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s On Wisconsin magazine, is a self-taught butcher. The biz is part of Under- ground Collective, whose Forequarter restaurant made Bon Appetit’s cut of the nation’s 50 best. undergroundbutcher.com
…AND AN OLD-WORLD FAVORITE
Shop the three-block, cobblestone Old World Third Street in Milwaukee for a taste of German fare. That includes Usinger’s, whose sausage-making began in 1880. More than 70 varieties are produced today. In the factory shop are daily specials, limited-stock items and multi-product gift boxes. usingers.com
Photo: Bavette, courtesy of VISIT Milwaukee
This article originally appeared in the 2019 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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