Burgers are synonymous with beef. The hamburger, the cheeseburger, the Royale with cheese…they’re part of American lore and culture.
But years ago, Paul Mishler started playing with a patty that used another meat — the other white meat, as the marketing phrase goes.
Mishler, whose family started Mishler Packing Co. in 1948, wanted to get rid of the sausage casing and create a burger patty made with pork.
A friend in Illinois had a spice company and Mishler worked with Jerry Hall of Excalibur Seasoning Co. to get the right mix.
For several decades, the pork burger has been offered at Mishler’s, 5680 W. 100 N., LaGrange, a bit southeast of Shipshewana.
The burger has a following, both because of the butcher and because it’s been on the menu at the Elkhart County Pork Producers booth at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair for years. At the fair it’s cooked over charcoal and doused in a ketchup-based barbecue sauce. It’s one of my favorite fair foods.
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But now, it could hit the big time. The company purchased a processing plant in Sturgis, Mich., that allows it to make the patties in greater quantities and ship them across state lines.
5680 W. 100 N., LaGrange, just off U.S. 20
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 to 5 Friday and 8 to 1 Saturday
Roger Penrose, a salesman, and Mike Munson, who has owned Mishler’s since 2008, hope to grow the sales beyond the county fair and fundraiser circuit, as well as the sales at the butcher shop.
In 2014, the company sold 240,000 pounds of the patties. Penrose believes that could grow six times over with the new plant.
For starters, Martin’s Super Markets has placed an order for the burgers packaged in attractive boxes.
This area is blessed with great butcher shops, and Mishler’s is one of them. Paul Mishler, now 91, was 24 when his father Homer started the packing plant. Homer had learned to butcher in the field and moved to Shipshewana after marrying.
He did custom butchering on farms around the area starting in 1946. A man who had a slaughterhouse south of Shipshewana wanted to sell it and Mishler bought the business. The first cow was butchered in the plant on May 22, 1948.
The company developed products along the way. “I always liked the ring bologna,” Paul said. He and his father were proud of their cased sausage.
Mishler’s still will do custom butchering and even handles bison for Cook’s Bison Ranch. It’s remarkable to see how large a bison really is when it’s been skinned and hung in the cooler.
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Mishler’s stuffs sausage and smokes it, just as they smoke their bacon and ring bologna. The smoked sausage has a snap from the skin and a flavor that bests the national brands.
Times have changed and meat has, too.
“When I was young, they used to brag about how much lard they get out of a hog,” he said, noting that 50 pounds was a good net. “Now it’s all changed to leaner meat. Good breeding brought this on. Not near the fat in the pork especially. That has really changed.”
Being a butcher is still hard, messy work, but Mishler, as well as Munson and Penrose, believe in principles that don’t have anything to do with sharp knives and fresh cuts.
“Be good with the customer. Be honest. Give them a product they can enjoy. Have it be consistent,” Mishler said.
He still visits the plant regularly, but Munson runs it now. Mishler’s has 21 employees, big enough to do $2.1 million in sales last year, but small enough to be responsive. “What a small plant allows us to do is be consistent and monitor quality,” he said.
They use local meat, as well as some that comes from out west, but focus on quality. “Because we’re local and been here established for a number of years, we have that reputation in the community,” Munson said.
The new plant in Sturgis adds a dimension, an opportunity, to the business and will make it easier to get the pork burgers. I’d love to see them on local menus. I’d love to see them at Four Winds Field where the South Bend Cubs play.
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Yes, I’m a fan of this burger as a nice change from the ones made with beef. It’s got nice flavor and cooks lean. It’s proof that a burger doesn’t automatically mean beef.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.