Sausage gets a bad rap. Everyone has heard the saying about politics and sausages, like there's something not pretty going on and you'd best look away until The Finished Product is neatly packaged. Well, for one thing, that old saw would have never caught on had it not been misattributed to Otto von Bismarck, whom everybody knows is history's greatest authority on both politics and sausage. But according to WikiQuote.org, it turns out the analogy was spun by some Joe Schmo from Michigan, thus greatly diminishing its gravitas, if not its veritas.
For another thing, New Haveners do not mix sausages and politics. A bit of local history here: New Haven and Hartford shared the status of Connecticut's capital cities from 1701 until 1873, when it was officially decided by intermunicipal treaty that state laws would thenceforth be made in Hartford, and great sausage would be made in New Haven. Since then, Elm City charcutiers have not swayed from their path of culinary destiny.
Now, everywhere you turn, folks in New Haven are making sausage: bratwurst, kielbasa, kosher sausage, vegetarian sausage, and of course, more than anything else, Italian sausage. New Haven being an internationally recognized pizza capital, there is a huge trade in the loose, moist unpacked sausage that goes on your pie.
Although many local pizzerias make their sausage in-house, much of the state is supplied by those twin pillars of the New Haven sausage industry, Longhini Sausage Co. and Lamberti Sausage Co., both of which have passed the 60-year mark. However, for the past 85 years, some restaurants in New England have gotten their Italian pork sausage from Minore's Poultry & Foods, making it possibly the oldest local sausage-maker still in business. A relative newcomer, 16-year-old La Molisana Sausage in Waterbury ships dry Italian sausages like salami and pepperoni to area restaurants and retailers.
What makes for a great sausage? A recipe that comes directly from your Italian grandparents, for starters, according to Sandy Lupo, owner of La Molisana. With sausage, tradition is not just a buzzword; grandma's recipe probably has origins that predate her grandmother, and then some. A fact sheet on sausages published by the University of Connecticut Department of Animal Science explains:
"From antiquity to the present, man has searched for methods of preserving and extending his food supply... In 830 B.C., Homer wrote about smoking and salting meats in The Odyssey. Different types of sausage were created all over the world, and each region developed their own distinctive style of sausage influenced by the availability of local ingredients, spices, and casings. Climate was another important factor for the development of region-specific fresh and dry sausages."
So for all we really know, sausage perfection was achieved sometime in prehistory, with the recipes passed down orally in the Homeric tradition. Even in the hyper-innovative culture of the United States, successful variations on the sausage can be counted on one hand: hot dogs, sausage patties, turkey sausage, chicken-apple sausages, and vegetarian sausage.
"Tradition is exactly what makes our sausage great," said Jay Pallotti, sales manager at Lamberti Sausage Company and grandson of the company's founders. "We've always used the best cuts of meat, the best spices... We pride ourselves on a nice, lean product, and by tradition, that's what it's always been." Indeed, this 67-year-old company with a factory located near New Haven's waterfront has been playing up the fact that its products are gluten-free. However, it's not as if they've changed their recipe, given that Lamberti never used cereal fillers to begin with.
In a way, tradition becomes even more important when monkeying around with the tried-and-true formula. "I would recommend for anyone who wants to make their own sausages, think of the spices that are traditional in meat sausages and adapt it," advises Claire Criscuolo, owner of Claire's Corner Copia, who makes veggie-only sausages at her restaurant.
Tradition, as the saying goes, is what gives the fiddler his balance while playing on the roof. You don't need to tell it to the folks at Westville Kosher Market on Amity Road. They offer beef, lamb, turkey and veal sausages instead of pork. The kosher meats and casings they use are handled from the barnyard to the display case in much the same way that they have been for centuries, supervised under the kosher authority of Vaad HaKashrus of Fairfield County.
"For 40 years we have used the same recipe," boasts Romeo Simeone, owner of Romeo and Cesare's Gourmet on Orange Street, in a strong Italian accent. Part of that tradition is an extreme pickiness about what goes into that sausage, says Simeone: "Only the best you got — fennel, peppers and meats."
If all this smacks of culinary stodginess, it is paying dividends. One Cheshire pizzeria, Mr. Bimonte's, uses New Haven sausage as its claim to fame on its home page: "Our sausage comes from Longhini Sausage in New Haven. It is made fresh daily and delivered straight to our door! Just the right blend of spices make it delicious!"
Pizza chefs in greater New Haven seem to have sausage-making in their blood. It's fascinating that with factories and shops making world-class sausage just up the road, restaurants ranging from the 75-year-old Zuppardi's Apizza in West Haven to Kitchen Zinc, purveyors of "artisan" pizza on Chapel Street, insist on making their own. One market, Ferraro's on Grand Avenue, lets customers have it both ways by stocking Lamberti sausages while also selling hundreds of pounds of their own every day.
Sausage purists who like their sausage flying solo on a plate, casing and all, should try the sausage of the day at Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro. "We do all kinds of fresh sausage," says chef and owner Jason Sobocinski. "We've done German; we've done Spanish; we've done Italian; we've done it all, served on top of whatever the braised vegetable of the day is." Now that's old school.
But New Haven would never have earned its culinary stripes had it not been for a passion for invention in the kitchen. So how do you improve upon on the perfect food? One way is to change its shape. According to the legend, Lamberti Sausage gave birth to the most significant lifestyle shift in sausage consumption since the hot dog when it invented the sausage patty.
"What you've heard of as the original sausage patty, at least in Connecticut, was my grandmother coming up with a two-and-a-half ounce patty," explained Lamberti's Jay Pallotti. "That's what you see more so today in your sausage-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwiches." Hold on just a second! The drive-through McSausage format was invented in New Haven? Now that's some big stuff.
But there's no way that New Haveners are done innovating on the sausage front, not while there's still a hole in the market. Right now, you can go to practically any meat counter in town and buy super-fresh, locally made sausage, but can you go into a veggie mart like Edge of the Woods and find the meatless equivalent? No, not yet anyway. Sure, there are frozen products, with links that have a convincing texture and patties that have a savory, peppery flavor, but it's just not the same as fresh and local. Someone should do something about this. Time to step it up, Clay-ah!
The Sausage Short List
Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro
93 Whitney Ave., New Haven, (203) 624-3373, caseusnewhaven.com
Claire's Corner Copia
1000 Chapel St., New Haven, (203) 562-3888, clairescornercopia.com
664 Grand Ave., New Haven, (203) 776-3462, ferraromarket.com
315 New Haven Ave., Milford, (203) 877-6300, jimmysapizza.com
966 Chapel St., New Haven, (203) 772-3002, kitchenzinc.com
Lamberti Sausage Company
207 Food Terminal Plaza, New Haven, (203) 562-0436
La Molisana Sausage
350 Congress Ave., Waterbury, (203) 574-1272, lamolisanasausage.com
Longhini Sausage Company, Inc.
41 Longhini Lane, New Haven, (203) 624-7110, longhinisausage.com
Minore's Poultry & Foods
320 Whalley Ave., New Haven, (203) 865-4119
Romeo & Cesare Gourmet Shoppe
771 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 776-1614, romeoceasersgourmetshop.com
Westville Kosher Market
95 Amity Rd, New Haven, (203) 389-1723, westvillekosher.com
179 Union Ave, West Haven, (203) 934-1949, zuppardisapizza.com