TROY PEPER, OLD WORLD MEAT PROCESSOR

Troy was raised in a family that grew its own food. Growing up in central Wisconsin, he worked with his father and grandfather in the family dairy machinery business and took after their values. He later worked on the floor in a small specialty cheese operation, as the plant manager of an international egg processing facility, and almost every position in between. He has since decided to return to the simple values that were planted in him as a kid: the value of wholesome food. He and his wife, Stephanie, now operate a small, old world meat shop.

troy1

On every homestead that I grew up on there was a family garden. It was part of our food supply. That was expected. That was just normal for us. If you wanted a tomato, you went to the garden and got a tomato. You didn’t go to the local grocery store—never. If you grew it, you had it, and what you grew, you ate. Nothing went to waste. That was instilled in us at a very early age.

Once I graduated from college, my wife and I wanted to get back to Midwest values. So we moved to Sun Prairie, WI, and I got involved in a cheese operation. It was more making small batch niche market cheeses. What I really enjoyed about that—you felt like you had a hand in the process. Many mornings we had to be there at the crack of dawn ‘cause you wore many hats. What I liked about it is: you got to meet the farmers. You understood their story. You got to know their family, their history. You felt that you were a part of the impacts of good stewardship.

Later in life, I went to a much larger cheese operation—an international organization. More mechanical, more mechanization, a lot of additives, very little hands on interaction. The quality was good, but I don’t think the quality was as good as a specialty. It was more designed around high output, value stream, and line efficiency. To me—I understood why—but it never felt like you really had a connection to the product, and that has always bothered me.

I’ve seen the progression. At this point in my career I really want to get back to basics, the fundamentals of quality, and knowing your supply chain.

 I take it all the way back to my grandparents—first generation Americans. They had to generate their own food supply. They raised their own beef and chickens; grew their own gardens. I watched my grandfather take what we would deem today as “scrap meats” and turn them into a soup or stew. I see a lot of value, a lot of pride in that. Then I take that to my father’s generation. I remember handshake deals with my father—taking me as a young adult, driving to north Texas, meeting with the farmer at 4 o’clock, shaking his hand on a deal, no written contracts, no legal documents. That resonated with me. That said that, wow, you can be in business and you can be a good environmental steward, be sustainable, and honor values. So what’s motivated my wife and I, is making that into a business model—living that, walking the talk.

What we are looking to do is to get back to simplicity. The notion is to get back to, you know, operate like your grandparents did: simple ingredients, wholesome supply, wholesome food. And make a product that is not only of high quality, but also tell the story of that piece of food. I want to know where that product came from. I want to build a relationship with that farmer. We are working with families that know where their hogs come from—they know their feed inputs. They’re feeding them things of natural substance like acorns and apples, and they are doing it in the old fashioned way, because it’s the right way.

We are doing this one supplier at a time, it’s not just an interaction and a contract that we sign. We are going out to the farm, having dinner with these families, and getting to build relationships long before we sign any contracts. We are trying to understand histories. We are also taking the knowledge of those farmers, telling their stories, and bringing them into our family of business. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of work to understand them and meet with them. I think that’s a key word: partnership. We want to from partners in business versus just having a supply chain.

troy2

Is it harder? Yes. Is it more expensive? Absolutely. But when I sit down with a consumer and hand him a piece of meat, I can honestly tell that consumer where that ingredient came from, the history and origin, and feel good about it. It’s an honest transaction. That’s something that I cherish and I think there is a market demand for that.

Products are made in small batches. Troy describes the smoked Polish kielbasa as one of his favorites.

troy3

Our goal is to bring some of these old world trades and commodities and foods to every individual— doesn’t matter what your economic background, doesn’t matter what your generational differences are, we can educate people of some of these craft artisanal meats. Lead by example in the marketplace, educate consumers, bring them into our store and do workshops. Have transparency of what’s behind the curtain, show them, and bring them into the supply chain: what we use and how and why we do it. Verses behind closed doors, where you just have to trust the business.

These are niche products, small batch, were not putting stabilizers or enhancers in our products. Their shelf lives are less, that’s why we do small batches. They are not meant to be mass-produced.

We’ve gone right back to the core, we’ve trained ourselves in southern Italy, working with old world farmers that have been doing this for generations with no nitrates and no preservatives. That has opened out eyes as to how it can be done from its origin and traditional artisan preservation without all the chemicals.

I think consumer demands and preferences are changing before our very eyes. We are right at the tipping point of an evolution in food culture in the United States. I think it is going to take time to educate people, but do I think there is a consumer need and a want for it? Absolutely.

There has been a lot of trust lost in the food industry. People don’t trust food labels. People don’t trust big business. In the age of food transparency, we are holding companies more accountable. We are raising the bar of food safety.

What my time in large industry processing has taught me is that you have to be good stewards of your community and your environment. Our philosophy is to be heavily involved—not just be involved the community as a business, but be present, be active. Not only my wife and I, but also our employees and our partners in the supply chain. It’s a part of being in a community, not just a part of a community. I think that’s the right thing to do.

Today, our initial product offerings are going to be in a deli-charcuterie operation, minimal distribution. And we did that by design, we want to bring our clientele and our consumers with us through the process, really getting our consumer base comfortable with what we are doing. We gotta walk before we run. We want to educate our consumer base of who we are as a brand. We need people to understand who we are, earn trust, then evolve our brand into the marketplace.

We wanted to find a name that really ties it back to our vision statement, getting back to basics. What norcino means, in Italian, is butcher. The norcino was actually the father of charcuterie. In early renaissance Italy, there had to be a delineation of roles for food safety. You would separate the raw from the ready to eat. The norcino would come into the side of ready-to-eat products: you would take all the leftovers or primal cuts and transition every component of the animal into a wholesome, food safe product. That embodies who we are, what our values are. So we named our business [after] that transformation.

When people hear the words organic or artisanal, I think it intimidates some people. We want to bring it back to good, wholesome quality products, and not get caught up in some of the hype of whether it is GMO free or if it’s this or that, and really get back to fundamentals: just good, wholesome, sustainable food.

— Hannah Peper

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s