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Cherry WHAT? Yes, Sausage. Cherry Sausage

August 21, 1990

DETROIT (AP) _ After following his father into cherry farming, Ray Pleva figures tart cherries are in his blood. They’re certainly in his sausage.

Pleva is negotiating to go nationwide with his award-winning cherry-pecan pork sausage. Such success, he hopes, could rescue Michigan’s tart-cherry industry from doldrums caused by production exceeding demand.

Daughter Cindy, the 1987-88 National Cherry Queen, is credited for inspiring the sausage, which prompts most people to make faces - until they try it.

″We’d be talking about (cherry industry) problems at the dinner table, and she’d say, ‘Boy it would be nice if we could have something new.’ The idea just popped up,″ he recalled. ″I thought about it 7,500 times.″

Finally, he experimented. He hit on the recipe - 20 percent tart cherries, 4 percent pecans, the rest lean pork and spices - in February 1988. The former cherry farmer started selling it at Pleva’s Meats, a business he and wife Marge run in Cedar, in Leelanau County northwest of Traverse City. He says he is patenting the mixture, which has only a subtle cherry-nut flavor.

In 1989, the product received the Michigan New Product Award, was featured on Cable News Network and was honored at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago. He said he has shipped the product to 49 states and is talking with national fast-food chains.

″We think we’ll have good news for cherry farmers soon,″ he said, referring to Michigan’s 1,100 growers, who produce about three-quarters of the nation’s tart-cherry crop.

Production of about 275 million pounds of tart cherries in 1987 exceeded national demand by about 55 million pounds, haunting growers for the next two seasons, said Dick Johnston of the Cherry Marketing Institute in Okemos.

This season, supply and demand are expected to even out, he said. But products like Pleva’s could boost tart cherries’ share of the competitive fruit market, he said.

Pleva is expanding his cherry-pecan line, making a spicier Italian cherry sausage, cherry pepperoni and cherry sausage snack sticks. He says his links are sources of vitamins A and C, because of the cherry content, and of fiber, because of the nuts.

A Grand Rapids laboratory analysis showed his sausage links have 77 calories per ounce, nearly 60 of them from fat. A conventional breakfast sausage has 119 calories per ounce, nearly 95 from fat, said Allison Boomer of the American Dietetic Association.

Though Pleva’s sausage has lower calories and fat, she said: ″It wouldn’t be something I’d eat often. To me, (sausage) is like eating butter.″

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