Being the owner of a restaurant, food and cooking are everyday passions of mine. I constantly am looking for new exciting things in the culinary world. It just so happens that I am lucky enough to strike up a conversation with a great friend of mine Dino Graziano. Dino comes from a large Italian family and for years now, has been telling me about his family's recipes, his Mom's cooking, and the ritual Sunday Family Dinners. I have been lucky enough to receive a few treats from his family, each time only increasing my want for “the golden ticket” into the home Salumi factory of the Graziano's. I wanted to learn his family recipe for fresh Sausage and Homemade Soppressata!!
Well Saturday, February 28th was my lucky day! I met my good friend Dino Graziano at Center Square Grill around 9:30 AM on Saturday morning. After meeting at the restaurant we headed out to Ludlow, MA to pick up a few ingredients we needed. Dino navigated the way to JR Butcher. Walking in is like a time warp to old school Portugal. There are beautiful Portuguese Prosciutto’s hanging from hooks like in the old days, a variety of different dried sausages hanging from racks, and a bunch of steaks and ribs to choose from. I walked into a carnivore's heaven.
We we're there to pick up 60 pounds of Pork Butt, which is actually the meat from the pig's shoulder – in case you were wondering. None the less, Dino gives instructions to the butcher about how cut and grind the Pork according to his Mom's specifications. Oh yeah, did I say we left with some of that Portuguese Prosciutto as well!! Carnivore’s heaven!
While in Ludlow, we stopped by the Ludlow Central Bakery where I buy some of my bread for CSG. Dino bought a loaf of bread, for what would be a surprise to me later in the day. The big guy also decided we should try a little pastry that caught my eye, and it did not disappoint! Filo baked with fresh sweet custard, the only bad part is my car now needs a good vacuuming!
As we drove home, Dino told me about the old days when his mom would buy the whole pork butts and with the help of her sister, of course at that time a Mini Dino, - they would Clean, Butcher and Grind all the meat. This was no easy feat and took quite some time. These were the days before electric meat grinders. This was a hand crank! Nonetheless, when his Father would return home the next part of the process would begin Filling, Tying and Drying so the meat would cure.
Clearly this was a labor of love!! An all-day event. Not to mention, a family tradition not nearly existent in our generation any longer.
Well back to Saturday, we arrive at his parents’ house. Dino's Dad, Agostino greets us at the door, a smaller man with a firm hand shake and a great Italian accent. I hear him speaking English, I hear him speaking Italian and sometimes both together. It really wowed me when Dino returned dialogue in Italian back to his family; I didn't know he could speak the language at all. When I entered their house I see family pictures that remind me of faces I see all of the time for lunch and dinner because not only are the Graziano's good friends, they are great customers to boot.
For some reason I really liked when his Dad would use the word "Quando" meaning "When" as he began a story. It was almost like he wanted to tell me in Italian, like I was Family, but then remembered we had just met. I immediately felt right at home! I also met one of Dino's Mom's cousins, and then his wonderful Mother Giuseppina.
I knew she'd be wonderful, not only because of the stories from Dino, but also because I have met Dino’s sister and her children, they really are a great family. In my business I always say "it starts at the top," let’s just say it does in their household too! This woman is epic! She is 80 and she is a workhorse! The house is kept, kitchen organized, and she even greeted me with a fresh espresso upon arrival!
Excited to get to work, we retreat to the basement kitchen, for any of you with family from the old country, you know there are always two kitchens. His family had this kitchen installed the year after they bought the home. Dino dubbed it "The Factory." They had many industrial pieces of equipment, I was impressed, this really was set up for production!
Giuseppina got right to work putting the pork into a large mixing container, immediately beginning the seasoning process. A secret that she has now passed to me! She must have been mixing for 10 minutes when she asked me to step in. I put my hands in and began mixing, a minute later I had to pull my hands out. They we're shaking, the meat was that cold, something that never phased the Matriarch. I was embarrassed that I had to keep stopping but it really was bone chilling cold. In the end when I washed my hands I was relieved. She then said "Now we cook and taste to make sure the flavor is right." After tasting she added a few finishing touches, that's when I realized my poor hands we're not done. I dove back in and finished the mixing.
We then moved onto the next phase. It was a well rehearsed process, everyone moved right into position. His father Agostino, feeds the hand crank grinder which pushes the meat into the casing, perfectly timed I might add. Dino's Mother handled the casing and really intricately made sure every sausage was filled perfectly, as she pricked holes in the casing with a special fork from Italy that she only uses for this. Dino himself was in charge of tying. This might seem like the easy job but for a man with office hands, lets say his fingers we not in great shape by the end. I mostly watched this part hopping on in where I could.
After all of the meat was cased and tied for the first time, Dino and I went over each beautiful sausage and re-tied one side so that they could hang from the rods in the shed to cure. We then positioned them to dry on paper towels for 24 hours. Dino assured me that Sunday afternoon he is Dad and He would hang them in the shed.
Shed? I asked if I could get a tour, Dino kindly obliged. It was packed with hanging gems of delicious looking charcuterie. There was Soppressata, Capicola, even fresh sausage in different casings that they had hung to dry.
Leaving the shed, we returned to the house. Dino explained that his Dad had a special system of drying the sausages and the other meat goodies. He sometimes opened one of the windows in the shed, and sometimes both. I think this is still a mystery to everyone except Agostino.
When we returned back inside the house, I received the surprise I spoke about earlier.....Lunch! We ate at a beautifully set table with nice china and even cloth napkins. I seriously got the royal treatment. I noticed a glass by my plate too small to hold water. This was for Agostino's homemade wine. Another lesson I hope to get at the Graziano house sometime.
Lunch was perfectly cooked penne with the freshest tomato sauce, unlike any you could get from the store. A display of the Sopresseta and Capicola, with the bread from Ludlow was there as well. She then delivered a platter of perfectly placed meatballs and sausages. Everything made at home by her. We finished the meal with a great salad, noticing immediately that she had taken the time to de-seed the tomatoes. The attention to detail was bistro-like. It was all delicious, it was a treat!
Overall, I left full, happy and feeling like family. I left with only one question...which was Quando posso tornare, which translated means, When can I come back?