I couldn't wait to share this post on Calabrian Sausage Making. It's not often that I hear my husband talk about somebody from Calabria that makes his own sausages here in south Florida. It's a rare occasion to hear of a sausage maker from anywhere around here, really.
Fabrizio was recently telling me about his new friend that he met through his chef Andrea at the restaurant. He explained, "He makes the sausages the way my mom does. He's Calabrian and lives here 6 months of the year and in Canada 6 months. He's going to come by the restaurant and make sausages and some other things with us. Why don't you come by and photograph him?"
Are you kidding? A chance to watch a Calabrian butcher making sausages from scratch at our restaurant? You name the day and I will be there! So a date was chosen in the beginning of December and I made sure to clear my calendar. You see, my mother-in-law who is from Calabria, makes her own sausages. This happens at her home in the Lombardy region of Italy once a year and it happens in the winter when we aren't there. By the time we get there in June, there are some sausages left that Teresa has saved for us to try. Teresa shows me her work area and tells me who came to help her make the sausages that last winter. She explains how cold it is that time of year while they're working in the cantina. They work as a team fast and steady in a rhythm she's been a part of her whole life, just as her mother and father did in Calabria.
But this story isn't about my mother-in-law Teresa and her incredible sausage making skills. This is a story about Aldo Marano-a fellow Calabrian that is crazy talented, humble and warm. Like many people in the south of Italy, meeting Aldo for the first time was like meeting an old friend. Meeting Aldo was almost like meeting one of Teresa's numerous cousins.
On the day they had chosen to make the sausages, Aldo arrived at the restaurant before we did. He was awaiting us in the parking light with sparkly green eyes and a ready smile. Fabrizio showed him around the kitchen and after that, work began quite swiftly.
There was the cleaning of the pig skin (which I didn't get a chance to photograph because the camera battery was not charged) and there was the prep of the meat. It is a messy and laborious process. Once the meat was sectioned off and put to chill, Aldo moved on to the pork belly. It was completely fascinating to watch a master butcher slice his ingredients with years of expertise and skill.
Aldo and Andrea made cotechino and sausages together. First on the list of creations was the famous Italian holiday sausage: Cotechino.
With his friend chef Andrea from Modena, Aldo continued on with the preparation of the meat. I have had cotechino many times in Italy but never homemade.
Aldo explained it is only a handful of ingredients: the pork, the pork skin, salt and red wine. That is it. Oh, and the black pepper!
I moved to the other side of the kitchen and tried to find the perfect spot to photograph the grinding process. The blade was a little blocked and Aldo told us if we were using his grinder we would've already been finished. Some parts were adjusted and we were back in the meat grinding business. After the process of grinding the pork and its skin, it was time to start mixing it all together.
Everything they ground went into a huge container. Andrea added some salt, the pepper, a little wine; Aldo knew if the sausage filling was ready by eyeing it. I'm not exaggerating. Aldo kept mixing and checking the color of the mixture.
I was busy photographing. I'm not used to staying still in the kitchen. As a passionate cook, I'm always ready to chop, prep, stir, mix...I wasn't used to staying idle as an observer. Aldo added more salt and a little more pepper. It seemed as if we were getting close to having it be ready for filling. While Andrea was busy taking care of something else, Aldo needed my help. He looked at the bottle of wine and told me to pour the rest into the mixture. I put down my camera for a moment and poured the rest of the deep red wine into the mixture. With a satisfied look on his face Aldo exclaimed, “Now it's ready!”
The next part was moving on to stuffing the casing with the sausage filling. This took a while as they tried to adjust the meat grinder. It wasn't a machine that Aldo typically uses. He kept explaining how his smaller machine would've had the cotechinos ready in just minutes! Finally things moved along and the sausages were ready. Aldo masterfully bound them together with the twine.
As the hard work was coming to a conclusion, I thought it was the moment to ask Aldo if he would mind sitting down with me for a few minutes to talk a little about his story. He graciously accepted my invitation and we proceeded to start our discussion.
A quick chat with Aldo Marana-Calabrian Butcher/Salumeria expert extraordinaire! I asked him the questions in Italian, wrote the answers in Italian, and later translated it to English to share with all of you.
1. It was amazing to see the whole process of how to make cotechino and salami. Where did you learn how to make sausages?
I grew up in a small town in Calabria named Serra Pedace (Cosenza). I was one of four boys and my father worked as an iron welder. My mother was a casalinga (homemaker). When I got a little older, I was alone with my mom and younger brother and I had to help my mom in the house. I learned everything about food from her. I learned how to make traditional Calabrian breads and cookies for the holidays. I learned how to can tomatoes at the end of the summer. I also learned how to make salami first at my mother's side. I worked at a trattoria in my town when I finished school. I worked there for 3 years before I emigrated to Canada. That is also where I learned many recipes and techniques on making sausages.
2. What was your childhood like growing up in a small Calabrian village in tough economic times?
I grew up in the 1950's and times were very difficult economically. My father worked and my mother stayed home raising myself and my 3 brothers. My mother made everything that would pass on our kitchen table: sauce, bread, pasta, wine and of course, the sausages. I didn't realize anything was missing as our table was always rich in delicious homemade food.
3.Tell us about meat consumption during the 50's and 60's in Calabria. How many pigs did you buy a year?
How many pigs? Just one! We would go to the farm and choose our pig. The farmer would slaughter it and cut it into portions for us. Packed up and ready to go, we then began our journey back home. When we arrived home, mamma would begin the preparations. We used every part of the pig. The meat was sectioned off to make sausages, capicolla; the legs were left to age for prosciutto; every part of the head was used. The tongue and head was made into a gelatina. Sanguinaccia sausage was made with the blood. Do you know how smooth that blood sausage was? Like a butter! A spoonful spread on a slice of homemade bread...just amazing. The fat...we would reserve the fat to cook with. Did you ever have potatoes fried in fat? (At this point Aldo's arm is moving in a motion expressing a large amount of pleasure...a circular wave in front of his body). Una meraviglia! Not good for cholesterol but we didn't eat it every day.
4. So you ate from this pig all year round?
Yes, that is what happened. We made the sausages, salami, capicolla...when they were aged and ready to eat, we enjoyed it almost until it was the next January and it was time to buy the next pig.
5. What about a nice piece of steak or ground meat?
No, beef wasn't part of our diet. A cow was very expensive in those days and only enjoyed by those of the a higher economic level.
6. What else did you eat in those days besides the pig?
We had fish. In those days our town was about a one hour drive from the sea. So it wasn't too difficult for us to have fresh seafood and we did eat it throughout the week. Now with the roads fixed it only takes about 30 minutes to arrive at the seaside. We had chickens...boy, did we have chickens! We ate the eggs and when it stopped producing eggs, we would eat the chicken. We made our own cheese. There were plenty of vegetables: lots of potatoes! There were so many dishes that were made with potatoes. We made potato donuts: they were made with flour, potatoes and yeast. It's like a pizza dough but with potatoes. They're eaten usually during Christmas time but we would eat them all year round. You could visit anybody in those days and they would offer you these ciambelle (cullurilli is what they're called in dialect).
7. What other meats were part of your diet in Calabria?
We would eat other meats, but only during a special festival. Like the festival del paese. There were 15 towns all lined up next to each other along the mountain side. Each town had a special saint's day like San Donato or Santo Stefano. On those days, there would be lamb and goat. We would make “cuccia”.
There is a sweet and savory version. For a special feast day, we would make the savory version with the goat and pig meat, boiled slowly in a grain base and herbs. The sweet version is made with cheese and honey.
8. You are a very talented sausage maker, cheese maker, wine maker...the list goes on! Why don't you open your own shop?
Thank you and yes, I have been offered to go into business many times by investors. But I'm retired. This is a hobby. This is what I love to do. I am not obligated to do this as a job. (At this point Aldo shows me the photos of his work room in Canada. He shows me the production from last year: the cheeses, salami, wine, canned tomatoes. It looks like a room that could be opened today as a shop). I'm free to go as I please. I do this for my friends and neighbors. Last spring when I returned home to Canada, we bought $2,000 of meat with my friends. We all worked together and shared the sausages. I didn't have a very wealthy childhood, but we were never missing anything. (At this point, Aldo smiles a nostalgic smile and his eyes twinkle). They were beautiful times. My childhood was wonderful. I have happy memories of a very simple life in Calabria. Even today, I live day by day, but it is a happy life (he says this as he pats his stomach with a huge grin!). Tomorrow I'll come by to bring you some of my olives and cheese!
And yes, the next day Aldo appeared with not only his olives and cheese, but also his stuffed dried figs, croquettes and salami he made earlier this year in Canada. It was an incredible sampling of the delicacies he has been making his whole life. It was a taste of Calabria with our new friend. He promised our next lesson would be how to make his special cheese. Tomorrow he is arriving to make porchetta! Stay tuned for more to come from Aldo!