Saturday, July 16, 2016

All in the (Italian) Family

Brier Hill Sausage Co.

If you’re from Youngstown, Ohio, chances are your last name ends with a vowel…at least one of your parents is of Italian decent, you’ve eaten your weight in Wedgewood Pizza, attended a wedding or two at Mr. Anthony’s, shopped for groceries at Rulli Bros., played bocce at the MVR, visited Lanterman’s Mill during the holidays, ordered peppers in oil as an appetizer, consumed dozens of blueberry donuts from Whitehouse Fruit Farm, viewed a concert at the Covelli Center, devoured bowls of cavatelli at the annual Canfield Fair, were a fan of Jim Tressel before his days at The Ohio State University, and know of the neighborhood referred to as Brier Hill.

This post is unlike the fifty-four that precede it, as the focus of this Destination, Ingredient, and Recipe is Brier Hill Sausage Co., a new business started by my husband, Jerry Pallante III and his father Jerry Jr. Although I was feeling a slight amount of anxiety due to the personal nature of this story, I sat down with the father-son duo in the multipurpose cookbook/cake pan library at The Commissary, a shared commercial kitchen space where they are producing their fourth generation family recipe sausages, to discuss how their new company came about. Brier Hill Sausage Co. pays homage to the Italian neighborhood on the north side of Youngstown where the Pallante ancestors settled. Jerry Jr. shared how many that lived in Brier Hill, his paternal grandparents included, produced an all pork Italian-style sausage that was preserved with smoke and cured until it was ready to consume. Referred to in the neighborhood as “black gold”, most likely a play on the words black coal, which was abundant in the once thriving steel town, he recalled how his parents only made the smoky delicacy once a year before the winter ground thawed and spring officially began. The temperature outside needed to be cold enough so the meat wouldn’t spoil, but not too frigid that it would freeze the links while they were smoked in the family garage and then hung in the attic to cure. Stored in a ceramic crock of oil, the sausages were reserved for special occasions and typically lasted the family all year until the weather was right to produce another batch.

As with many old world recipes, exact measurements and directions weren’t written down, and as family members passed and years flew by the art of making sausage in the Pallante household ceased, with the recipe for their smoked and cured sausage in danger of being lost. Around 20 years ago, Jerry Jr. answered a call from his cousin Charlie Papagna, who was interested in making his own batch of black gold. He jumped at the chance to once again make the beloved sausage and brought his son, Jerry III, along to learn the process and be the additional man power they needed to turn the crank of the sausage stuffer. The three, along with a few other family members and neighbors, would painstakingly grind cuts of pork, mix in the secret blend of spices by hand, crank the mixture out of the stuffer into natural casings, hand tie each link, and prick them to release any air pockets. Making sausage became an event near the end of winter that everyone involved looked forward to, not only because they were carrying out a family tradition, but when the work was complete Charlie’s wife Rosanne treated the group to her famous chicken noodle soup and, not surprisingly, fresh-made sausage sandwiches. Word began to spread about the production of this treasured charcuterie, and before they knew it the enlisted crew was stuffing 400-500 pounds of pork into imperfectly sized links and smoking it in Charlie’s shed. After getting its proper dose of smoke for both curing and flavor purposes, the sausage would take a trip back to Jerry and Charlie’s grandfather’s house, located off of Dearborn St. in Brier Hill and still owned by the family, to cure in the attic for about two months. The sausage making continued until the early 2000’s when the city demolished a number of houses in Brier Hill to make way for a connector to Highway 680, at which time annual production came to a screeching halt.

In April 2012, a few years after Jerry III and I moved to Columbus, he suggested to his Dad that they should yet again start up the meat making tradition. Jerry Jr. agreed, and the two mixed up their inaugural, modest ten pound batch in our kitchen in Columbus, cold smoked it over the grill, and dried it in our basement. The next year they upped the operation, and since the larger batch needed more space, this time it was smoked in Jerry Jr’s shed in Youngstown and then hung in his attic to dry. After multiple attempts to fill our garages, sheds, attics, and basements with wafting fumes of smoke and links upon links of sausage, my mother-in-law and I persistently suggested they turn their hobby into a business and move into a commercial space. Brier Hill Sausage Co. officially began in 2014 and their first test batch of Smoked & Cured Italian Sausage was produced in January 2016. Even though it isn’t smoked in a garage or hung in an attic to cure, it’s still made in the same time honored tradition as it was by the residents of Brier Hill. Also, it’s worth noting that there isn’t anything to hide about the making of this sausage; they use whole pork shoulder, no filler, scraps, or mystery ingredients. It’s a small batch, quality, handmade product that is worth the several months wait it takes to produce. For now, the men have zero intentions of scaling up and prefer to run their operation in a stress-free manner in which they can enjoy each other’s company and do what they love best, cook and eat. And just like that, with Jerry III’s great grandfather’s sausage stuffer in tow, the two are yet again making sausage; solidifying and preserving a family tradition for future generations of Central Ohioans to enjoy.


The Brier Hill Sausage Co. sausage (pictured left) traveled 0 miles to Columbus, while the sausage (pictured right) traveled over 481 miles to Columbus.

Brier Hill Sausage Co. offers four types of sausage, one smoked and cured version and three fresh varieties:

  • Smoked & Cured Italian Sausage: A recipe made the same way today that it has been made by our family for four generations. Our Brier Hill Sausage Co. Hot Italian Sausage is cold smoked over fruit wood and then hung to slowly cure to perfection. Known simply as "black gold" in the old neighborhood, each small batch of this meticulously handcrafted sausage takes over a month to produce.

  • Hot Italian: Brier Hill Sausage Co. makes our Hot Italian Sausage with premium shoulder cuts of fresh pork that are coarse ground, seasoned in the traditional Brier Hill style, and stuffed into a natural casing.

  • Sweet Italian: A milder version of Brier Hill Sausage Co.'s Italian sausage, made from coarse ground premium shoulder cuts of fresh pork and stuffed into a natural casing.

  • Polpetta: This unique Brier Hill Sausage Co. creation features a pork and beef sausage made with our family's meatball seasoning. Stuffed into a natural casing, our Polpetta offers a unique twist on the meatball sandwich.

Pasta Carbonara

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