Jeremy Plummer maneuvered through the butcher shop at Lower Valley Processing Co. with a large tub of sausage, just like his father and grandfather have undoubtedly done so many times in that same room.
With a few people between him and his destination, Plummer made an announcement.
“National champion coming through!” he said, before pivoting past the shop’s sausage maker and setting the tub on a counter.
Lower Valley Processing, located south of Kalispell, recently won the grand prize at the American Cured Meat Championships for its chicken sausage, a new creation by sausage maker Jason Mahlen. While the butcher shop has entered – and won – many state contests, this summer marked the first time it had tried its luck at a national competition.
In mid-June, the Lower Valley Processing crew traveled down to Reno, Nev., with samplings of their top meats, including the recently perfected chicken sausage.
“We just thought we’d go down there and see where we’re at,” Mahlen said.
The Kalispell company ended up winning grand champion prize for poultry sausage and reserve champion prize for a salami based off a recipe from Charles Plummer, Lower Valley Processing’s founder. Charles Plummer’s son is Wes, the current owner, and his grandson is Jeremy, 27, who works at the shop.
Mahlen was obviously pleased, if not surprised, by the accolades in Reno. Not too long before the competition, he was still tinkering with his recipe for the chicken sausage. Clearly, he figured out the right combination of ingredients, working with a base of skinless chicken breasts and thighs, mozzarella, finely cut onions and spinach.
Both Mahlen and Jeremy Plummer said they were shocked by how accurate and insightful the judges were, seemingly knowing each of the sausage’s secrets just by tasting it.
“The judges could just about tell you what order you poured the seasonings,” Plummer said.
Like other products at Lower Valley Processing, the chicken sausage uses local ingredients. The Plummers and Mahlen have embraced the local foods movement, and their customers have too.
“They like the local meats, local processing and local farmers,” Mahlen said.
Markets that emphasize all-natural and local products carry Lower Valley’s products, including Withey’s in Kalispell, Harvest Foods in Bigfork and Third Street Market in Whitefish. Customers should be able to find the chicken sausage at those locations, as well as Rosauers in Kalispell and Blacktail Grocery in Lakeside.
Lower Valley offers its products at a number of other locations around the valley and at its retail store location on Lower Valley Road, displaying a full range of products, including barbecue ribs, elk bratwurst, bacon, smoked cheese, smoked salmon, ham, summer sausage, steaks and much more.
The butcher shop also serves restaurants in the area, such as providing buffalo and elk to the highly respected Café Kandahar. Lower Valley Processing has a state inspector visit everyday and maintains detailed scientific records.
“No hormones, no genetic altering, none of that,” Jeremy Plummer said of the shop’s meats.
Charles Plummer founded Lower Valley Processing in 1972 in a two-car garage on his property. Since then, the facility has grown significantly but remains at the same location. Today the business employs a number of workers, but it is still by any definition a family-run operation. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to include Mahlen in the list of family members. He’s been there for 20 years.
Everybody – all three generations of Plummers and Mahlen – live within a mile or so of the butcher shop.
Wes inherited the shop from his father in 1989 and Jeremy seems destined to take it over from Wes someday. In the meantime, he’s a constant presence in the shop. Charles Plummer and his wife Sylvia continue to show up everyday as well.
“They still put in about 10 hours a day out in the garden,” Mahlen said, gesturing to a meticulously kept garden and front yard.
Along with the beautiful garden, visitors are also greeted by a massive pink pig hovering above the road in front of the store. Anybody who has ever driven down Lower Valley Road has surely noticed Betty Lou, constructed by Jeremy.
When you see Betty Lou, you know you’ve made it to the right place.
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