- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

EFFINGHAM, Ill. (AP) - As a deer carcass is laid across one of the cutting tables at Hartrich Meats, the animal is butchered down and processed with remarkable speed.

Once the meaty parts of the deer are removed - which mainly include back straps, legs and shoulders - it is infused with all types of tantalizing flavors that end up as deer sticks, sausage rolls and bratwursts.

This time of year is extremely busy at Hartrich Meats, which was started 52 years ago by Harold Hartrich. The business is now run by Harold’s sons, Mark and Tony.

“This month is crazy,” said Mark. “We have the holiday work, with the honey hams and smoked turkey and whatnot, along with all the deer.”

Nine full-time employees work 12- to 14-hour days through December to keep up with the demand, along with assistance from several part-time employees.

“Maybe they can move the deer seasons to after the holidays,” joked Mark.

The long-time business, known to deer hunters for its longevity and quality, process up to 34,000 pounds of deer meat a year, along with its regular slaughter schedule. The Hartrich brothers have been working hard to keep up with demand as the number of meat processing plants has diminished because of state regulations.

“In the mid-‘90s, there were 400 or better businesses like us,” said Mark, who is a past president of the Illinois Association of Meat Processors.

With smaller processing plants subject to the same regulations as the largest meat processing plants, Mark said some were unable to meet the standards and others didn’t want to deal with the red tape. Mark estimates there are now 200 similar businesses open in the state, and they have clients from Champaign to Carbondale. With the recent closure of Teutopolis Meat Locker, businesses like Hartrich are becoming somewhat of a rarity in the area.

“Processing and butchering is a work-intensive process,” said Mark. “There is a lot of paperwork that goes along with it. We have an inspector here on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which are the kill days for beef and pork.”

The brothers said they enjoy the work of processing various types of meat for area consumption as they worked busily Friday afternoon processing deer from the second shotgun season.

The work involved in processing deer has been expedited over the past half century. Since the late 1990s, packaging has been made exponentially faster with the use of a vacuum stuffer. First meat is cut off the carcass, run through a grinder and finally fed through the stuffer for packaging.

In addition to sausage rolls and ground deer, deer sticks have become popular with the advent of new technology. Such technology has helped the Hartrichs provide a consistent product.

“You set the type of meat you want to smoke, and it does the work for you,” said Tony, who added the smoker controls humidity, temperature and can add moisture.

In the early days of the business, a glazed tile building with a gas heater and a fan was used to smoke meat.

“We couldn’t do these deer sticks back in the day,” said Mark. “That process would have dried them out too much.”

After Tony rolls a large rack of pepperjack deer sticks out of the smoker, he notes the deer sticks taste better than they smell.

“They always taste the best right after they are done smoking,” said Tony.

The smoked flavor with the infusion of cheeses like jalapeno and pepperjack have made deer sticks a favorite among hunters. The company offers a variety of other meat products, including sides of beef and pork. They have expanded into catering and other products. The third-generation business keeps up with the busy schedule with the assistance of their employees, along with Mark and Tony’s sons Brian, Craig and Daniel.

“It is hard work, but we enjoy it,” said Mark.

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Source: Effingham Daily News, https://bit.ly/1szQZiM

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Information from: Effingham Daily News, https://www.effinghamdailynews.com


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