September 2007 Issue
Some 25,000 tons of Ohio-grown cabbages are used annually to make The Fremont Company's signature product.
Chances are the sauerkraut decorating your hot dog, nestled up against your pork and dumplings, or topping your Reuben sandwich comes from a family-owned kraut company in Sandusky County.
The process of turning cabbage into kraut starts early in the day. Sparkling drops of morning dew cling to the outer leaves of the cabbage heads, creating the illusion of diamond-studded vegetables. Just picked from fields, the heads are stacked high in open trucks and delivered to the 102-year-old Fremont Company, named after the city of its location. These are not the modest-sized cabbages that are sold in grocery stores. The white cabbages weigh 20 to 40 pounds each.
"All the cabbages we use are grown locally, from about 14 farmers in a 30-mile radius, so we help support Ohio farmers," says Christopher Smith, marketing executive and great-grandson of the company's founder.
The Fremont Company has made several different food products over the years, including canned corn, beans and now canned tomatoes and ketchup. But it is fermented cabbage — sauerkraut — that Smith says is the family's "true passion." About 25,000 tons of cabbage is used annually to make the company's SnowFloss Kraut and Frank's Quality Kraut brands, much of which is sold in retail stores.
"We are also national distributors to food services. So if you are eating a Reuben sandwich at an Arby's in Southern California, it's our sauerkraut," Smith says.
Fremont Company cabbage is also used in making the sauerkraut pizza, egg rolls, ice cream and potato cabbage soup at the 2007 Ohio Sauerkraut Festival, October 13 and 14, in Waynesville. The company is a sponsor of the 38th annual festival, where contestants in the Sauerkraut Recipe Contest may only use its brands.
Dawn Schroeder, the executive director of the Waynesville Area Chamber of Commerce, says the Fremont Company supplies 13,000 pounds of sauerkraut for the event, which local nonprofit food vendors use to make a variety of sauerkraut concoctions.
"The Catholic church makes cabbage rolls to sell at the festival. They make more money that one weekend than they take in from bingo all year," says Schroeder, adding that the festival attracts more than 300,000 people.
Fans who eat a sauerkraut-covered hot dog at the Toledo Mud Hens' stadium also get a taste of the Fremont product. "People feel strongly about sauerkraut," says Smith. "It has a unique flavor. And it's nostalgic; it reminds people of family gatherings."
Sauerkraut sells across the entire United States, but is exceptionally popular in areas with large concentrations of residents with Polish, German and Czechoslovakian heritage — a nod to the Eastern European tradition of sauerkraut as a staple.
The cabbage product has fans among the health-conscious as well. A cruciferous vegetable, cabbage is high in antioxidants, calcium and fiber. The fermentation process is believed to increase its healthful benefits. Studies suggest sauerkraut is an immune-system booster, a cancer fighter, a digestive aid and a tool against the spread of Avian flu (and other flu viruses). Some believe sauerkraut will prevent canker sores, help a person stay slim and even improve one's sex life.
In Ohio, Clevelanders buy the most Fremont Company sauerkraut, according to Smith, who joined the business nine years ago. In 1905, businessman Allen Slessman combined several small sauerkraut companies in the Great Lakes area to create The Fremont Kraut Company.
Twenty-eight years later, the company took controlling interest of Frank's Pure Food Company and continued to expand over time. The name was changed to The Fremont Company in 1976. Smith's father, Richard Smith, is president.
The process of making sauerkraut has changed very little over the years, according to Christopher Smith. Cabbages are weighed in the scale shed, the last original building in the complex. The heads move by conveyor belt into the coring shed, where each is grabbed by hand and cored by a worker using a drill.
The outer cabbage leaves are removed and sent back to the fields as nutrients for the soil. Salt is added to the washed cabbage as a preservative, but no wine or vinegar. Cabbages are sliced into slaw, with some shredded a little finer for Frank's Kraut Singles, individual kraut servings. Three hundred tons of cabbage a day can be prepared in the coring shed.
An enclosed airflow system moves the cabbage to large tank rooms where the company's original 70-ton fermenting oak barrels wait in rows. The tank rooms, with their vintage wooden plank flooring, are mysterious, dimly lit warehouses where the amazing process of fermentation takes place. During fermentation, acetic acid and lactic acid are produced, creating the flavor of sauerkraut ("sour cabbage" in German).
"There are similarities to winemaking," says Smith. "No refrigeration is needed. When it is done fermenting, it holds. Our employees know by testing and tasting when it is done. We try to keep the product standard, but there will be some variety in taste because of the different varieties of cabbages that we use."
The fermented product travels to the plant's pristine canning and jarring room where sauerkraut is steam cooked. A unique, unmistakable "sauerkraut smell" — appealingly musty and heady — permeates the air. Sugar and caraway seeds are added to the company's Bavarian style sauerkraut, but the Polish type gets only caraway seeds. A consumer once complained that not enough caraway seeds were in his sauerkraut.
Smith patiently explains that part of the charm of the century-old company is that instead of an automated, exact measurement, a trusted employee just throws scoopfuls of seeds into the vats, expertly eyeballing the amount. The seeds get tumbled and distributed with the sauerkraut, but occasionally a packaged product will have a bit more or fewer seeds than the others.
Workers use stainless-steel pitchforks to help move sauerkraut through the packaging plant. The product is sold in several different sizes of jars and cans, as well as 32-ounce plastic bags and 1.5-ounce single-serving packets.
"We're not a huge commercial operation. We don't have to meet any production numbers," says Smith, whose company employs about 50 people. "We can take our time and do it right."
|For details on ordering sauerkraut via the Web, as well as recipes and interesting facts about sauerkraut, visit to www.sauerkraut.com.
Krauted Chocolate Cake
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
3/4 cup sauerkraut, drained, squeezed and chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well; add vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cocoa; add to creamed mixture alternately with water; beat well after each addition. Stir kraut into batter. Pour into two greased and floured 8-inch cake pans. Bake 30–40 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes; remove layers from pans and allow to cool completely. Frost as desired.
Serves 4–6. Prep time: 15 minutes
1 14-oz. can of sauerkraut, drained
4 oz. corned beef, cubes or strips
4 oz. Swiss cheese, cubes or strips
1 cup Thousand Island dressing
1 tsp. caraway seeds
6 cups lettuce
Combine first five ingredients; serve on a bed of lettuce.
|These and 23 other recipes are included in the "Kraut Cuisine" booklet, available for $2 by writing to:
The Fremont Company
802 N. Front St.,
Fremont, OH 43420