Sausage Making with Mr. Ciccone

If there’s anything that makes Mr. Ciccone happy, it’s making sausage. He enjoys working with meat of any kind because it reminds him of growing up in his native Italy where his father was a butcher. Although in his primary career Mr. Ciccone was a maintenance supervisor for his local municipality his true calling was serving the local Italian community with his butchering skills. He also became known for his delicious cured meats and fresh sausage.

When January rolls around, Mr. Ciccone has pork on his mind: prosciutto, capicollo, fresh and dried sausage. In Italy January was the time of year when the fattened family pig was slaughtered and all of the pork products were made over a several day period. Most families raised at least one pig throughout the year, feeding it acorns and chestnuts as well as food scraps from the table and garden. I’ve been told that the pig was even given the dirty dishwater, which didn’t contain soap, so that not a scrap of food went to waste.

January is the ideal time of year for curing meats. The cold dry air serves to retard the growth of the bacteria and molds that would spoil the meat in warmer months. Mid-winter also allows enough cool days for the meat to dry properly before the warmer days of spring.

In his younger years, 94 year old Mr. Ciccone made up to 100 prosciutti as well as several other cured pork products each year. Although he now makes only fresh sausage, he still becomes so focused and engrossed in the process that he can think of little else. You have the feeling that you’re spending the day with the happiest person on earth when Mr. Ciccone is involved in the ritual of sausage making.

 

Sausage making with Mr. Ciccone - buying the meat

Day one of the two day process involves buying the meat. Pork butts, which are the shoulder cuts, are used. Mr. C always speaks directly to the butcher who brings out several cuts for his inspection. The proper fat to meat ratio is important.  Too little fat and the sausage will be dry and tasteless. Cuts that are too fatty will require tedious trimming and leave less useable meat. Any extra fat will not be disposed of though. It will be melted and rendered into lard that will be used for cooking.

 

Sausage making with Mr. Ciccone - cutting the meat

By the time I arrive early the next morning, the table, cutting board and grinder have been pulled out of storage, his favorite knives have been sharpened, and once his butcher’s apron is on he is ready to get to work.

 

Mr. Ciccone cutting the meat

His experienced eye surveys the meat and he quickly and confidently decides where to trim the fat and then he cuts perfectly sized pieces cleanly from the bone.

 

Mr. Ciccone cutting the meat more

He works steadily for over an hour and I can tell he is beginning to tire. I offer to take over the cutting so he can rest. He sits and intently watches every move I make. After less than ten minutes he’s had all that he can tolerate of my less than expert technique. He stands without a word and, with a nod of his head, he tells me that my turn is over and he is back to work.

 

Mr. Ciccone adding meat to grinder

He loads the cut pieces of meat into the grinder. The grinding process itself goes quickly with his powerful commercial grade machine.  In earlier times this process would have been done with a hand grinder and would have been much more laborious and time consuming. Before the hand grinder, the meat would have been cut into tiny pieces entirely by hand using two knives in a cross cut, scissor like fashion.

 

Grinding the meat

The meat comes out of the grinder with the perfect mix of fat and lean.

 

Adding spice to the ground meat

Once all the meat is ground, in go the spices: cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, fennel seed and salt. No measuring spoons or cups. He adds a little of this, a little of that, seeming to know exactly how much of each is necessary. The spices are mixed into the meat with a lifting, folding, and kneading motion, much like bread dough.

 

Cooking to test

Now comes a critical and delectable step: the tasting. Before the meat mixture is stuffed into the casing it’s still possible to adjust the balance of spices. We fry a few patties and determine that a bit more black pepper is needed.

 

Testing and tasting the meat

After working for hours with the cold raw pork, the cooking aroma teases your palate and the taste of the hot fresh sausage is a welcome and well earned treat.

 

Pork bones

In typical Italian fashion, nothing is wasted and the freshly trimmed bones are used to prepare the customary “half time” lunch of pasta with sauce.

 

Cutting garlic

Mr. C is as famous for his cooking as he is for his butchering.

 

tomato paste

As he assembles what is truly some of the world’s best tomato sauce, he jokes, tells stories and belts out old songs in Italian. Standing over the sauce pot, his hands busy preparing familiar food, all is right with the world. Today life is good and his contentment is infectious.

 

sausage and wine for lunch

The rest of the ingredients for our meal are brought out: pasta, cheese for grating, and of course, his homemade wine.

 

pasta

Hungry and a bit tired, we sit down to a perfect plate of pasta. This feast revives us for the second half of our work.

 

skins in water

The stentina or casings, which are the small intestines of a pig, were washed the night before and soaked in water to remove the salt they are packed in. It’s necessary to wash them repeatedly and thoroughly before use.

 

filling the casings

The stentina are fitted over the stuffing tube which has been attached to the grinder. The hopper is filled with the sausage mixture which the machine forces through the tube and into the casing.

 

filling the casings

Cotton strings are tied at the desired beginning and end of each link, then the casing is cut.

 

sausage

Although it’s been a long day, Mr. Ciccone is pleased with the final product and the ritual of sausage making, as always, is worth the effort.

Comments

Chris Rocco

Beautifully documented Mary. How wonderful to be privy to the knowledge and “saggezza” of Mr Ciccone as well as the talent in making sausage and cooking one heck of a red sauce….Love the work you’re doing– keep it up !

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Mary Menniti

Thank you, Chris. I feel so fortunate to know and spend time with people like Mr. Ciccone, and to be able to share the experience with others such as you who understand and value this way of life.

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Loretta

Oh I so enjoyed the sausage making story of Mr. Ciccone. As I plan to retire in the fall, this is something I’d like to try doing. My mother and my aunts made homemade sausage on New Year’s Eve and I think I may still have the equipment. Wait til my cousins hears I have plans for us to do sausage!

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Perry Seppi

Thank you, Mary for your time and effort in carrying on these Italian culture and traditions. The contributions of Italians to this great nation are immeasurable thanks to family like you.

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Mary Menniti

Your kind feedback means a lot, Perry. Thank you. It is an honor to be a part of helping to keep the traditions and culture alive and relevant for future generations.

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Norman Cosentino

This sausage making reminded me of my father making sausage when I was very young, nearly 60 years ago. This evoked good memories!
Norman Cosentino

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Eileen

Thank you so much for this post. I remember doing this with my father every January and it was something I looked forward to doing. I think it’s time to pass the tradition down to my children.

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Mary Menniti

What a beautiful gift to share with your children. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have experienced these Old World traditions have the unique privilege of being the link between two vastly different worlds. Sharing these traditions of food, family and the earth can enrich our children’s lives in countless ways.

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