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Meat that matters

BLUMENORT, Man. – Customers at Country Meat & Sausage in Steinbach, Man., face the traditional glass case filled with the usual assortment of ham, pepperoni, pork chops and salami.

However, they’ll also find a meat product that isn’t displayed at most butcher shops in Western Canada.

It’s not a fringe item at Country Meat & Sausage, considering that it takes up about a metre of the four-metre long glass case.

“I think people who have never had farmer’s sausage are missing out,” said Anita Wiens, who works at the shop and feeds farmer’s sausage to her family several times a week.

“You have to have farmer’s sausage and noodles with a cream sauce…. That’s a standard meal in any Mennonite household, two or three times a week.”

Farmer’s sausage is a tradition in Manitoba’s Mennonite community and a staple food in Steinbach.

“I always say the only things that people eat in Steinbach are farmer’s sausage and ground beef,” said Wiens. She sells about 45 kilograms of farmer’s sausage a day.

Farmer’s sausage is uncooked and made with simple ingredients: ground pork, salt and pepper. However, the sausage is cold smoked, meaning it’s smoked but not cooked.

“It’s a mild pork but the smoke distinguishes it from any cooked sausage,” she said.

The key to great farmer’s sausage, she added, is smoking the ground pork at the right temperature and for the right length of time.

Bryan Bartel, owner of MJ’s Kafe in Steinbach, buys his farmer’s sausage from meat processing plants in the area, but said many people in the community make it themselves.

“I have three or four staff here that make their own,” he said. “You’re still seeing it passed on to the next generation.”

The mild, smoky sausage is the biggest seller for meat products at Bartel’s restaurant and is served for breakfast, lunch and supper.

“A lot of it is served with our vereniki, which is like a perogy. That would be a more traditional meal.”

Bartel said farmer’s sausage can be used in many ways.

“Very often at home I’ll throw it (in the oven) with a bunch of potatoes,” he said.

“Then your potatoes pick up some of that nice smoky flavour.”

Wiens said it also goes with rice and noodles and can be fried, baked, broiled and barbecued.

However, she said its main appeal is ease of preparation.

“A lot of families where Mom and Dad are both working, you take a farmer’s sausage, throw it in the oven for half an hour and your meat is done.”

It may be tasty and easy to make, but Wiens isn’t so sure about its health benefits.

“Healthy wise? I really don’t think there’s anything that is healthy about it,” she said with a laugh.

She did say the amount of fat in the meat can be reduced, depending on how it’s prepared. Healthy or not, farmer’s sausage is a big seller.

“For process (meat) sales, it’s quite a big chunk, probably 50 percent (of our business),” said Robert Jowett, who owns and operates the pork processing plant in Blumenort with his wife, Heather, and their five children.

A sizable part of that business is from Mennonites who have left southeastern Manitoba and are now dispersed across Canada. When they return to visit relatives in Manitoba, the ex-pats will often buy boxes of farmer’s sausage to take home.

Jowett is considering obtaining a federal licence for the plant so he can sell farmer’s sausage across the country.

“Those are the niche markets you’ve got to go for,” he said.

Wiens also believes there’s a big market outside of the Mennonite community, based on ease of preparation and versatility.

Pearl Neufeld, who works with Wiens, said farmer’s sausage will sell itself.

“There’s nothing else like farmer’s sausage.”I think people who have never had farmer’s sausage are missing out.

Pork sausage

24 lb. ground pork 10.89 kg

7 tbsp. salt 105 mL

2 tbsp. pepper 30 mL

1 tbsp. nitrate 15 mL

In the beginning

Farmer’s

sausage dates back to the days when families would gather to butcher

the pig (or pigs, if several families were involved). What followed was

a bustle of activity, slicing, cutting, washing, packing, grinding and

salting, and someone was no doubt tending to the rendering kettle.

And

when the moon shone over the cowshed that night, the hams would have

been hung to smoke, and without a doubt, some industrious housewives

would have preserved quarts and quarts of precious home ground pork

sausage to feed the family all year long.

The tradition of farmer sausage lives on, but with the advent of the freezer, canning is no longer a necessity.

– From MJ’s Kafe menu in Steinbach, Man.

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