This is a slice of dry-cured hot Italian sausage, dripping in a marshmallow cream sauce. Sweet, spicy, salty, chewy, sticky…a surprisingly delicious experience. Made by North Denver Sausage Company.
How much do you know about REAL dry-cured sausage? For one, it’s famously difficult to make, one salumiere called it “the pinnacle of the art of meat” And it’s increasingly hard to find. A field trip this past weekend to North Denver Sausage left me “encased” in new knowledge about an old fashioned process. Let’s take a look.
A group of us were invited to a sausage and wine tasting. Our host was Katherine Laurienti, owner and President of Paisano Sausage and North Denver Sausage companies. This is a photo of Katherine addressing our group.
Katherine has been in the sausage making business since 1973, but after watching her client base of small independent restaurants decline over the years, she realized she would have to take her company in a new direction in order to maintain levels of profitability and survive.
She made the decision to produce a new artisan product, an old fashioned dry-cured Italian Sausage, and to do so under USDA regulations.
The art of making dry cured sausages is a complex affair, more so than making wine or cheese. Natural aging takes time, the degree of care and dedication to each step greatly influences the end product. The meat requires a gentle fermentation and a precise temperature for a perfectly matured sausage. Meeting the USDA requirements, while still maintaining the old-fashioned process, has proven to be a challenge.
USDA inspectors inspect Katherine’s plant every day. In order to justify her all natural, no heat process, she had to formulate a new Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plan. This curing process was as new to the USDA inspectors as it was to Katherine. Many things (temperature, humidity, etc) must be carefully watched during the three weeks that it takes to finish the product. Hers is only the second company in Colorado to attempt this process.
With a new product comes a new product name. Katherine chose the name North Denver Sausage for her dry-cured product because that’s where her process was originated.
So what makes dry cured sausage different from the wet, heat cured, cooked pepperoni or salami that we more commonly find on our market shelves? FLAVOR! Using minimal spices, gently matured and fermented, you can taste history and tradition in each bite.
Katherine also told us that some sausage makers try to hide the marbled pieces of fat in the sausage. She doesn’t, “That’s sausage, that’s traditional”.
Even though the facility was not in production at the time, we were given a tour so we could see how the sausage is made. This is a shot of the drying room.
The production area revealed a lot of shiny stainless steel equipment. The one at the lower right is a huge mixing paddle for the processor on the left.
Couldn’t resist taking a photo of some of the yummy Italian products sitting on shelves.
After the tour came the fun part. Tasting the products. That’s a selection of regular, hot and pepperoni sausage. Dipping sauces were the marshmallow, caramel and not pictured a sour cream and jalapeno dip. All delicious pairings for sausage.
A steaming tray of sliced Paisano Italian Sausage, cubed potatoes and green bell peppers. A simple and delicious Italian offering compliments of Bova’s Italian Restaurant.
We were also treated to a wine tasting compliments of Colorado winery, Balistreri. Syrah, Sangiovese and Merlot were offered as we sampled the sausage.
As we left, Katherine gave each of us a very generous gift basket which included packages of the mild and hot North Denver Sausage. For dinner that night, I sliced up some of the mild and alongside some cheese, mustard for dipping, bread and butter, and some olives, It was a great treat…we could not stop eating it.
How can you find old-fashioned dry-cured sausage? Look for sausages with short ingredients lists, natural casings and a firm, dry texture.
Thank you Katherine for the education, the tour and the samples of your products.
North Denver Sausage Company…The Old Fashioned Way.