“It was always after Christmas,” said Ric Albano, a look of nostalgia washing over him. Although we sat face to face in his custom-built home cantina, Albano’s mind had wandered to the late nights of his childhood, crafting handmade sausages in his family home. He painted the picture vividly: his mother’s house still dressed in the festive colours of the holiday season, the excited chatter of his extended family as they worked together in this rich tradition, and the slight sinking feeling that this was their last get-together before the school year recommenced. “As a kid, what I was able to help with was very limited, but I always kept a watchful eye knowing that one day, when I grew up, I was going to carry on the tradition.”
The craft of sausage-making was implemented centuries ago not as a culinary art, but as a means of food preservation. In its most primitive form, the sausage was created to move the fifth quarter—the leftover cuts of the meat. It was adopted by various regions globally, each one creating its own iteration from the Argentinian Longaniza, the Austrian Vienna, and the German Frankfurt, to name a few. Albano’s family had immigrated to Canada from Calabria, a southern region that is known as the “toe” of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula. Born and raised in Windsor, Albano holds his Italian customs near to his heart. Continuing the tradition of sausage-making has now evolved into an annual affair with friends and family. “We’re growing to be a disconnected society in a lot of ways,” said Albano. “This is my way of reconnecting and I’m dragging good friends and family into it.”
Upon entering his cantina, I was met with rows of soppressata, a cured sausage that’s traditionally made in the colder regions of southern Italy. They were stacked neatly, side by side, and I took a moment to snap a few photos; I had never seen anything like it. Albano beamed with pride at his creations. “The mold is part of the curing process, in case you were wondering,” he said, referring to the mold that grows on the sausage that is peeled off before eating.
Soppressata must be made in the colder months. “Part of the process is weather-dependent, because we are dry-curing it,” said Peter Rino, a local engineer and sausage-making hobbyist who has been making soppressata with a group of friends for the past seven years. “The temperature needs to be cold so it’s got to be the coldest time of the year.” Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie as the son of a butcher, Rino watched his father make sausages, but the young boy never showed much of an interest in the practice until he was older. Then he began watching the process more closely, which included course-grinding pork and blending it with a mix of spices and salt before filling the casing. “How much salt?” I asked Albano as he explained the intricate process. He smiled back sheepishly and said, “That’s the secret.”
The art of the artisanal sausage lies in the combination of added ingredients and their ratio to one another. Some like to play around with the combination, creating a new sensory experience from the traditional soppressata, while others, like Rob Isshack and his childhood friends Tony Montaleone and John Geraci, stick to the originals. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” said Isshack, referring to the Montaleone family recipe that has been passed down for generations.
The process of creating the actual sausage takes a couple of days. Once the casings have been filled, the sausages are then hung up to dry. “The drying process can take anywhere from six to eight weeks,” says Rino. At this time, the sausage must be stored in a temperature-controlled room during a process called “cold curing,” where they will remain until maturity. “Being a sausage maker, you can attest to the fact that there is global warming,” said Albano. “When I was a kid, we used to make our sausages in the winter and they would stay strung up in the cantina all year. The Earth wasn’t as hot back in the day. In the ’70s and early ’80s, that’s when we started noticing that we have to shrink-wrap them and put them in a cooler. It’s progressively gotten worse. So, I stand by the environmentalists.”
Although the process of sausage-making comes with some rich, cultural significance, it’s the camaraderie that keeps people coming back for more. The tradition is being carried on generation by generation in this growing movement that has evolved into a collaboration that spans across different cultures and palates.