I had not had a high degree of awareness of Jones Dairy Farm prior to their inviting me to their 125th anniversary celebration at the Culinary Institute of America. But the time with the Jones folks turned me from an ignoramus into a fan. Let me talk about a couple of things that impressed me about the company and its philosophy.
First, Jones was “natural” before natural was cool. Their products tend to have a very short ingredient list not because they have taken out all the additives, extenders and cost cutters, but because these items were never there in the first place. Jones’ Original Breakfast Sausage is basically the same as when the original Milo Jones started the company in 1889. Compare the ingredient list to another brand in the supermarket and you will get a quite an eye opener.
Rick Lowry, Executive Vice President, told us at the CIA that the only time something is added to a Jones products is when the USDA requires it. Having worked at a Fortune 500 food company before he joined Jones 13 years ago, Rick also shared some of the tricks competitors use to cut corners. An example is caramel, an additive that provides a pleasing color without actually cooking or smoking the product. Some caramel brands contain gluten, a fact that will be interesting to celiacs.
Jones also has high standards for the quality and preparation of the meats used in its products. Slaughterhouses are regularly inspected to be sure the animals are not stressed and conditions are clean. Only pork shoulders or turkey legs are used in its sausages, only full muscle cuts in its hams. Others might combine scraps from less desirable cuts or even “white slime” (formally “mechanically separated meat”), a turkey derivative made from blasting the bones with a high pressure device after all the meat is removed. This is similar to “pink slime” which is no longer used in burgers, but it’s still found in the sausages of some competitors.
One final Jones standard that impressed me was its management selection process. The company is in its sixth generation of family leadership, but family members do not automatically ascend to the corner office. In fact, you have to have proven you can make money in another line of work before Jones will even give a family member a job. Philip Jones, the current president, studied at La Varenne in Paris and was an executive chef for a number of years before he was offered a job in a maintenance facility at a Jones plant. He immediately made the transition, worked his way up internally, and in 2000 became the company’s president.
In the U.S., Jones Dairy Farm is the leading seller of Canadian bacon (even though theirs is considerably more expensive than the next best-selling brand), of Braunschweiger and of scrapple. (Scrapple is also the top seller on its website, due to the efforts of homesick Mid-Atlantans ordering a fresh supply.) It’s the only company in American to make a vat-cured ham in which the pork leg spends 2 ½ days for each pound of weight in a salt and sugar cure. It makes both uncooked and precooked breakfast sausages and most products are gluten free. Because of their wide distribution, Jones Dairy Farm Products are probably available in a store near you. Give them a try.