By Jennie Zeitler
Pickled eggs and pickled turkey gizzards are specialty products that have their own unique niche in the food product market — and they are packed right in Melrose.
Scherer Enterprise was started by Cletus Scherer in 1968.
“He used to serve boiled eggs in his bar, but they didn’t last long,” said son-in-law and current owner, Jim Loecken. “He decided to pickle them in his home basement. He went from bar to bar with samples.”
Pickled turkey gizzards were added and the business took off. Scherer later added pickled pork hocks, which were discontinued in 2009.
“They were pretty time-consuming and the price got too high,” Loecken said.
Scherer’s two sons ran the company for a while, but eventually Loecken took over.
In addition to eggs and gizzards, the company also pickles Polish sausage, started in the early 1980s.
Loecken and JoAnn Nieland run the operation with some sporadic part-time help from Marilyn Weber. Weber comes in about three times a month and helps with the eggs.
“I’ve been here 27 years,” Loecken said. But he admits that Nieland “basically runs the place.”
Their “work” time is spent with much teasing and bantering back and forth. It’s a friendly atmosphere, which helps when temperatures soar during egg processing.
The eggs are boiled in wire baskets — a total of 140 dozen at a time. They are then peeled by hand in 165-degree water.
“We wear wool gloves under rubber gloves,” said Nieland. “We can do 840 dozen a day.”
“It’s the hottest job in the world,” Loecken said.
Then heated brine is poured on them and they are slow-cooled down to 40 degrees.
The brine is used cool for the gizzards and sausage.
Gizzards are cooked overnight, about 10 hours, until they are very tender.
Scherer Enterprise gets eggs from Pease Produce in Pease, near Milaca — about 30,000 dozen every year.
The turkey gizzards usually come from Jennie-O in Willmar.
“They used to be a bigger seller than the eggs, but it’s evened out now “ said Nieland.
The Polish sausage comes from Bakalars Sausage in LaCrosse, Wis.
“We buy it frozen and pickle it here,” Nieland said. “We do it on demand, to keep it as fresh as we can.”
Products are obtained as locally as possible. Salt is purchased by the pallet from Munson Feeds in Melrose. Vinegar and other ingredients come from Arden Hills.
Jars are purchased by the semi-load to get the best deal.
Production has changed over the years. The egg operation is regularly inspected by both the Food and Drug Administration and the State of Minnesota. The United States Department of Agriculture inspects the gizzards and sausage.
“An inspector is here every day that we are processing,” Loecken said. “A few years ago we had a food safety assessment done that took about two to three weeks.”
Loecken reports that Nieland spends more time doing paperwork than processing because of all the regulations.
“Jo does the pH testing on one jar in every batch,” said Loecken.
Scherer’s Originals products are shipped to South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Idaho and Utah.
“We’ve never advertised,” Loecken said.
The products are marketed by St. Cloud Jobbing, Henry’s and Granite City. J&B Group in St. Michael stocks an 11-state area.
“Years ago the product went mostly to bars — that’s how things started,” said Loecken.
“Now, they go mostly to grocery stores and small meat shops.” said Nieland. “You don’t see many products like ours. There is one producer in Nebraska and one in Wisconsin; there is not much competition.”
“It’s unique,” Loecken said.
For more information, call (320) 256-7232.