Since I returned to our farm in 2008, my reading interests have become more focused. Although I’ve never met a good history book I don’t enjoy, much of my recent reading has been biographies of family businesses, particularly those in the world of food. So, it’s appropriate that I recently finished “Treated Like Family,” the story of the Sargento Cheese Company in Wisconsin. Like us, Sargento is now a third-generation family business. Unlike us, they measure their annual sales in the billions.
One of my favorite insights from Sargento’s founder, Leonard Gentine, was “It’s not our responsibility to know everything, to be the smartest in the room. Ideas come from everywhere. We need to listen.” It’s good wisdom, and his quote got me thinking about the development of our Uncured Smoked Turkey Breast, today one of our most popular turkey products. Although I’d like to claim that product as a stroke of my own genius, it’s actually a story of listening to a customer and our values.
In the fall of 2013, I got a call from the Executive Chef at St. Olaf College. We knew each other well, and St. Olaf remains a tremendous partner today. The Chef bluntly said, “We hate the smoked turkey we’re buying. It’s flavorless and the texture is mushy. Could you make us something better?”
Up to that point, all the turkey we sold was frozen, and we’d resisted the move to fresh items because of the added challenge of managing shelf life. We did, however, know that the world was full of bad lunchmeats, so we were willing to explore how we could do something different. I’d decided we’d only pursue our own smoked turkey breast if we could make it “real,” without sacrificing flavor, texture, or quality.
Thankfully, we have an experienced smokehouse ally across town — Lorentz Meats. As we kicked off the conversation, we told Lorentz we wanted to keep the breast whole, for real turkey texture. We wanted to use a real smokehouse smoke, not an artificial smoke flavor. And, we weren’t going to use the chemical nitrate or anything but simple, clean ingredients.
In short order, Lorentz Meats helped us develop the product we know today. Thankfully, St. Olaf loved it and has been sourcing their smoked turkey breast from us ever since. It’s a product we’re all incredibly proud of and a story I love. Like our Uncured Smoked Turkey Breast, the recipe turned out to be uncomplicated: listening, finding good partners, and sticking to simple, traditional practices.
We hope you’ll have a chance to enjoy our Uncured Smoked Turkey Breast sometime soon, and you can thank the folks at St. Olaf College for planting the seed that made it a reality.