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Housed inside a simple brick plant in Cudahy, the Porkie Company of Wisconsin is as well preserved as the pickled vegetables and meats it has been producing there for more than 60 years.
If you've ever seen those big gallon jugs of hard-boiled eggs, turkey gizzards, pigs feet or polish sausage soaking in brine behind the bar in Wisconsin, there's a good chance they came from the little plant located at 3113 E. Layton Ave.
And while the salty preservative qualities of brine can help keep pickled foods for years, the salty-sour foods' popularity peaked in the heyday blue collar tavern culture. Still the fourth generation family owned Porkie Co. has carried on the tradition of the classic bar snack.
"We used to cook five, 10 times the amount we do now. But we still have the tanks and we're going to use them. But if I had to reinvest in the tanks I'm not sure I would go that route," said Richard Rydeski, whose father Roman purchased the company in 1948.
Historically, pickled foods emerged out of necessity with the acidic brine acting as a powerful preservative and helping people store foods before there was a supermarket on every corner and a refrigerator in every home.
They proved a popular and familiar snack in Wisconsin bars where European immigrants working in the state's factories would socialize after work.
"At that time even Cudahy had two, three taverns on every block. When I was growing up there were taverns all over the place," Rydeski said.
It didn't hurt that their salty nature made customers thirsty either, Rydeski said.
"You eat those you get salty. When you get salty you need some liquid to refresh you whether its beer, a highball, whatever. And that would increase the sales in there," Rydeski said.
But as Wisconsin's industry and tavern culture dwindled so too did the popularity of pickled snacks.
"Young people aren't so much into it. They got it from their parents. The Polish, the Germans, The Czechs, they did that in their own country and came here and carried it on," said Rydeski, "My kids don't even eat it that much. Young people they want something fast, on-the-go, or microwaved or whatever."
A lot has changed since Rydeski's father moved the company to the building on Layton Avenue, a frozen locker plant that lay vacant for years when home refrigerators made them obsolete. Yet in many ways Porkie's reflects the tradition on it's products with the fourth generation of Rydeski's pitching in to help.
"It's still a family business. It will probably always be a family business," Rydeski said.
The Porkie Co. has adapted as tastes shifted. Booming Hispanic populations in the Midwest have created a demand for spicy pickled pork rinds, and as pickled food sales have dwindled they've stepped up production of their popular fried Porkie's Pork Rinds, Rydeski said.
And despite their shrinking sales pickled foods remain a fixture in many Midwestern bars for those that crave their salty taste.
Even after more than 50 years working at the plant, Rydeski still hasn't tired of the pickled Polish sausage, his favorite Porkie's snack.
"We get most of our sausage from Klement's and that's a good sausage," said Rydeski, "There is a lot of pickled sausage out East that is a lot cheaper, but there is a lot of filler in there. But Klement's has a good sausage and it holds up under the vinegar."
Porkie's pickled foods can be found at Ray's Butcher Shoppe, 4640 W. Loomis Rd., and King's Row Liquor, 1202 Milwaukee Ave. in South Milwaukee and a multitude of local taverns.