Pickled herring company Ma Baensch has two main missions: to provide the highest quality, best tasting herring in the world, and to accomplish this by sourcing the herring from sustainable fisheries off the coast of Norway.
Founded in 1932, Ma Baensch reports that it’s still going strong. Ninety years later, the company has made only slight changes. The company is still female-owned, but as of 1999 by Kim Wall instead of Ma herself; the recipe remains true to its origins, but it now lists all of its ingredients with full transparency; Baensch is still Kosher certified, but now by the Orthodox Union; and the headquarters remain in Milwaukee County, yet the company packs the herring in Minneapolis.
Of these changes, the full shift last year to packing in Minneapolis was crucial. “We’ve worked with a packaging partner so that together we can be a better processing facility; theirs is much more updated than mine,” Wall said. This new location is “totally dedicated to quality control, with a full-time staff.”
Spokeswoman Susie Falk said that with the change in packing locations, “nothing will change from the consumer’s perspective.”
As listed on Ma Baensch’s website, the product took off during the Great Depression when Lena Baensch’s personal herring recipe grew popular among her neighbors and friends. Soon, she was selling it in local grocery stores. Herring is particularly common in cultures with roots in the Baltic Sea region, where herring catch was critical to the economic prosperity of town merchants.
Due to its silver scales, herring looks a lot like money, representing prosperity if eaten around the New Year. With large Scandinavian and German populations, the Milwaukee area continues this tradition for good luck, according to Ma Baensch.
Although Jews were Baensch’s target audience in 1932, the product has reached everyone. “From all over the country, old and young, there are individuals who love herring,” Falk said. “A lot of them have been fans their entire lives. They are very adamant about which brand of herring they like. Ours has a different flavor than many of our competitors,” Wall added.
Some fans are not only loyal, but their ancestry is too. “They talk about the tradition of eating Ma Baensch in their families, share memories… They’re not going anywhere,” Wall said.