The sauerkraut’s fermenting at Artisan Deli Foods in Viroqua

Barry Thomas, owner of Artisan Deli Foods along with his wife Ursula, chops white cabbage for sauerkraut with his employees at the Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua. The Thomas’ started the company in 2012.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

VIROQUA – The cabbage has been harvested and shredded and Artisan Deli Foods’ latest batch of sauerkraut is fermenting in bins at the Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua.

Ursula and Barry Thomas have been making and packaging their raw fermented white cabbage sauerkraut at the Viroqua facility since 2015. They live in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Ill., and both have full-time jobs in that area.

Ursula, a native of Switzerland where her family had a sauerkraut company, and Barry, a Chicago-area native, started Artisan Deli Foods in 2013.

The business operated from East Troy, Wis., until the Thomases moved it to Viroqua in 2015 after hearing about the Food Enterprise Center at a food show.

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The sauerkraut’s fermenting at Artisan Deli Foods in Viroqua

Ursula Thomas, co-owner of Artisan Deli Foods, is the third generation in her family to make sauerkraut. The family business started in the 1920s in Switzerland.

“It’s great,” Barry said of operating at the Food Enterprise Center, which houses several businesses that make food products.

“Everything is done here,” in the Viroqua region, Barry said. “It’s grown, produced and packaged locally and distributed from here.”

An area Amish farm family grows the white cabbage that the Thomases use for their sauerkraut. This year’s crop was harvested and shredded at the Food Enterprise Center over two days in early September.

The shredded cabbage is salted before it ferments in special bins at the center for about eight to 10 weeks. No artificial preservatives are added.

“We package it in our pouches every month or so,” Barry said, typically starting around the end of October. The sauerkraut is sold in 16-ounce special ferment-vent pouches. Stored in a cool, dark storage space or refrigerator, it will last up to six months.

Barry expects to package about 5,000 pounds of sauerkraut made from this year’s cabbage crop. Sales continue to increase, he said. “We continue to slowly grow market share,” he added.

Artisan Deli Foods’ sauerkraut is high in fiber, gluten- and dairy-free, low in calories and is the perfect complement for healthy living, Barry said.

No herbicides or pesticides are used in growing the cabbage that Barry and Ursula use. “It’s raw, all-natural and organic, and is probiotic-rich,” Barry said of their sauerkraut.

While the business now makes one kind of sauerkraut, Ursula said, “We would like to expand our flavors to possibly include a white wine sauerkraut and a red cabbage kraut.”

Artisan Deli Foods sauerkraut is sold in about 12 grocery and health food stores in Wisconsin and northern Illinois. In the La Crosse area, it’s available in Festival Foods stores in the Village Shopping Center in La Crosse and in Onalaska; Woodman’s Food Market in Onalaska; People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse and the Viroqua Food Co-op.

Ursula said she grew up working at her family’s sauerkraut company in Switzerland. Her grandfather bought a small farm near Zurich in 1920 and began making sauerkraut.

Her father took over the family business in 1960 and throughout her childhood “I was always in the factory helping out,” Ursula said.

She first met Barry in 1981, while she was living in the Chicago area for a year, and they were married in 1988 in Switzerland.

Ursula and Barry both worked at the sauerkraut factory in Switzerland . “We moved to the U.S. in 1992, shortly after my father sold the (Masshard Sauerkraut) business,” she said.

The couple always wanted to own their own sauerkraut company, Ursula said, so they started Artisan Deli Foods.

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