Joey Jurgielewicz stands on the floor of the family’s processing facility in Berks County, Pa. A recent expansion project has increased the plant’s processing capability to 70 ducks per minute.
HAMBURG, Pa. — The processing equipment at the Joe Jurgielewicz & Son Ltd. processing plant is state of the art, but the ducks moving down the line have a lineage that dates back to 1933.
The Berks County plant processes 6 million ducks annually, and most of them go to the Asian market and high-end restaurants across the world. The company has over 200 employees, and 27 contract farmers across the region raise the ducks.
The Pekin duck that started it all dates back 90 years to Jurgielewicz ancestors who began raising ducks on a farm in Long Island, New York.
“This is the breed we developed in 1933 — JJS Pekin ducks,” said Joey Jurgielewicz, who operates the business with his father, Joe, and brothers Jim, Michael and Brian. “We developed this duck for a specific meat-to-fat ratio, which gives the meat a lot of flavor without it being greasy.”
The entrails of each duck are removed by hand as opposed to machine to protect the skin. When it’s time to package the ducks, they’re sent to a chiller room and placed in a cold water bath to get their temperature below 40 degrees.
“We use air agitation in the bath to prevent the ducks from floating,” Jurgielewicz said.
Whole birds are processed in two styles: American, which includes removal of the head and feet, and Buddhist, which keeps the head and feet attached.
Every part of the duck is used.
Tongues are packaged and sold as a delicacy, fat is rendered and used for cooking, feathers are cleaned and marketed for in coats and comforters, liver is sold for pate, and feet, necks, heads and wings are sold to the pet food industry for treats.
Sixty percent of the company’s ducks are sold to the Asian market, both internationally and in large U.S. cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
The remainder of the ducks are sold directly to consumers through the company’s website, or to retailers and high-end restaurants.
Still, the Jurgielewicz duck has plenty of local appeal. In nearby Shoemakersville, the Kwik Shoppe Drive-In offers pulled duck barbecue sandwiches.
“You can find our ducks at an ice cream shop in Shoemakersville to a five-star restaurant in Singapore,” Jurgielewicz said. “It’s really a versatile, tasty meat that once people try it, they really enjoy.”
And that’s why demand for duck is on the rise, he said. In addition to the processing plant in Berks County, the family owns another facility in Indiana that also processes 6 million ducks annually.
Jurgielewicz said the company is slowly adding growers in Maryland and upstate New York. The company is looking for more farms to raise its ducks, with potential for breeder and grower contracts.
“A lot of our farmers, whether it’s dairy or another commodity, use the duck barn as supplemental income,” Jurgielewicz said. “Demand is on the rise, and we’re looking for partners to grow with us.”