MIKE WAGONER

MIKE WAGONER

North Carolina excels in “sausage supremacy,” according to Thom Duncan, a writer in Charlotte. He’s on a personal treasure hunt to find “swine finery.”

He is zooming in, having narrowed his search to sausages that are produced by small businesses and independent farmers all across North Carolina.

Duncan suggests: “Find your dream sausage” at places like Neese’s Country Sausage of Greensboro, founded in 1917 by the family of James Theodore “Thede” Neese. He sold home-made sausage out of the back of his “prairie schooner” covered wagon, driving the streets of Greensboro and High Point.

Thede Neese developed a loyal customer base, by offering “just the right proportions” of pork cuts – Boston butts, hams, shoulders, loins and tenderloins – with salt, sage, pepper and a few ingredients that only family members know about, according to Duncan.

No chemical preservatives, such as nitrates, nitrites or monosodium glutamate (MSG), or meat additives or fillers are found in Neese’s sausage products.

The familiar rectangular blocks of pork sausage wrapped in butcher paper have sustained the Neese family business for 103 years now.

“That’s how meat looked when people bought it from a butcher, when our great-granddad (Thede) sold it,” says Tommy Neese III, who is from the fourth generation of Neeses to lead the organization. He and his sister, Andrea Neese, are listed as co-presidents.

Their father, Tom Neese Jr., now well into his 80s, continues to be involved in the business, as Neese’s CEO.

“Dad has always kept us ‘within our box,’ making sausage,” Tommy said.

The company’s marketing territory includes North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, three states that consume great quantities of fresh pork sausage products.

Tom Jr. sets the tone; he begins each day by walking to the back of the plant and talking to every single employee. “He’s always done that,” Tommy said.

Tom Jr. also ensures that on most days, there’s “a batch of cooked sausage sitting in the break room for employees to sample,” wrote J. Brian Ewing for Southern Living magazine.

“If there’s anything wrong with it, they’ll let you know,” Tom Jr. says. “We’ve cooked up some of our competitors’ sausage with our own and set it in there without saying anything, and we had people come right in and say, ‘Something’s not right with some of that sausage.’”

Tom Jr. says his favorite sandwich is Neese’s liver pudding with tomato pressed between two slices of white bread, slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise. The original Neese’s liver pudding recipe was introduced by his grandmother, Annie Smith Neese (wife of Thede).

In the 1920s, she ground up pork livers and other choice pork cuts and seasoned them with herbs and spices, adding just enough cornmeal to hold it together. Thede sold a heck of a lot of blocks of liver pudding from the back of his wagon.

Dr. Dana Hanson, an associate professor in North Carolina State University, is a connoisseur of cured meats. He explains that liver pudding and liver mush are closely related, and may “even attend the same family reunion.”

“However, suggesting they are meaty equals would invoke debate,” Dr. Hanson said. Eastern North Carolina prefers liver pudding, using coarsely ground cornmeal. The western part of the states opts for liver mush, which uses a finely ground cornmeal and wheat flour mix.

Either way, Neese’s is there at the meat counter with Neese’s brands of both liver pudding and liver mush as well as other cousins – chitlin loaf, souse and scrapple. Try them all.

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