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The Missing Link: An inside look at the sausage-making process with Sheboygan's Old Wisconsin after 75 years

Posted at 5:46 PM, Jul 20, 2022

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (NBC 26) — Some say you don't want to know how it's made. But we headed to one of the largest snack sausage companies in the United States to find out the process as it's celebrating 75 years in business.

NBC 26 got an inside look at the facilities at Old Wisconsin in Sheboygan, where leaders say they couldn't have done it without the staff.

"You look around, you've got 20, 25-year veterans," Vice President of Plant Operations Chuck Pfrang said.

He's talking about some of the now-500 people linking Old Wisconsin together.

"The secret in my mind of the long-term success of Old Wisconsin has been having high-quality staff, people who care about what they're doing," VP and General Manager Steve Harrison said.

The first step in the process of creating items like turkey deli sticks? Grinding the meat.

"It's the seasoned meat," Pfrang said.

"In fact, all of our products now are semi-dried products which are shelf-stable," Harrison said. "So they're take-along to any place you want to go. So they don't require refrigeration."

How the sausage is made: A look at Old Wisconsin

After the meat is stuffed into casings, it goes through almost a day-long fermentation, smoking, drying and cooking process.

"We're burning wood chips or smoldering wood chips, and we're pumping that smoke into the oven," Pfrang said.

"The natural pit ovens, which we think is a point of differentiation, gives it a unique flavor," Harrison said.

"It'll spend about seven to eight hours in the pit oven, and all we're doing is lowering the pH of the meat," Pfrang said.

The process works with years of care.

"The team at Old Wisconsin made Old Wisconsin," CEO Robert Buddig said. "We did it with the local folks here."

Then, the sausage is cut into bits and pieces before heading to the next building. The last step in the process is the packaging station. The products are then shipped out to the customer.

"This is not a terribly automated process on this end," Pfrang said.

"We're working on some smaller packages of products, so we continue to work toward the snacking side of things," Buddig said.

The CEO says Old Wisconsin produces around 40 million pounds of product a year.

"What's really been our success, besides the quality and staying with the quality, is the emotional value that the associates have here in making good, quality product," Buddig said. "That is the key to what we've done."

Buddig tells us the company recently earned an innovation award for its hot and spicy links at the Sweets and Snacks Convention.