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A Pound of Questions for Local:Q&A With Pat & Ellie Mullins
New Buffalo, Michigan – a Lake Michigan shore community
1. How did you get started in sausage making?
Pat: For me it started at the Chicago Cooking and Hospitality Institute. John Fuente was one of my instructors and whole idea of quality ingredients and eating well started there. Then I was lucky enough to intern at Blackbird and started making sausages there.
Then two friends and I went to California and by our second restaurant gig, I was becoming the sausage guy, and that’s when I started realizing this is what I need to do.
2. Ellie, how did you come into the food business – and why healthy sausage?
Growing up in Belgium (her parents are US citizens living abroad) sausages and healthy eating were just what we did every day. Coming back to the U.S. I didn’t know that what I knew about eating and healthy foods was so radical. But why not make really good sausage with really good ingredients?
3.How long have you had this store in New Buffalo? Why this location?
We started March 17, 2011. St. Patrick’s day is our lucky day. We started here because it was affordable and we were close to farmers who had the natural products we were looking for.
4. When did you start realizing that a sustainable food was the path for you?
Pat: For me, it was culinary school but for Ellie she grew up with that in Europe.
Ellie: The part of our mutual belief was in both of us being political science majors. Eating food and buying food is also about choosing a better way to live – it’s a political decision as well. But, more than the politics and it just making common sense to eat better, we think it tastes better!
5. How far, in terms of geography, do you go for the foods you sell in the store?
We find that most of the things we sell that are non-protein are within 25-30 miles of us. For meat and cheeses we expand the circle to 100 – 200 miles. About 90% of what we sell is going to be Midwest, but we do have some cheeses from beyond that range.
We think we have a good supply of farmers locally who get that we don’t want hormones and chemicals in our meat.
6. When you started this, was it hard to find farmers and livestock people who understood the sustainable commitment?
In the two years since we started we’ve seen a good deal of growth. We’ve been very pleased to see that Southwestern Michigan and Northern Indiana growers and farmers being on board with what we’re doing.
And, just as important, we’ve had very good acceptance from our customer base, which we now figure extends into the Chicago market.
How many sausages do you make?
We have about 15 recipes that we use. Our butcher case usually has four to eight different sausages to choose from. Since we’re still a small shop, we also pay attention to the calendar.
When the warm summer weather gets here, we shift to doing a lot brats because it what people want to grill on the weekend. So, we’ll have four or five sausage selections during the major summer months.
We do a wider range of sausages prior to Memorial Day or after Labor Day. Its also at those times when we try out new sausage recipes; when its summer time we’re running over time of keeping the basic sausages in the butcher case.
7. Can people have them shipped to their homes? Do you have plans to ship and take Internet orders?
Not right now. I think this is future for us. It makes sense but we’re very busy with our store traffic.
8. Tell me about a few your favorite sausages?
Ellie: Well, it’s like saying which child is your favorite. But, right now, I really like our Merguez sausage. I think we have the spiciness just right.
Pat: I’m in a Bacon Brat phase right now
9. Where do you get your pork?
Two of our favorite sources are Swan Creek Farms here in Michigan and Gunthorp Farms in Indiana. Swan Creek gives us very nice Berkshire hogs for our pancetta. And, Gunthorp sends us Duroc hogs and we make bacon from those hogs.
Both farms are very conscientious about the high quality of meat and the sustainable healthy philosophy.
10. How often do you introduce a new sausage or product?
We’re seasonal sausage makers. During the cool months we’ll do more of Toulouse type sausages, then when it warms up, we’re back to more of a Brat style. In terms of new sausage ideas, we’re usually trying out new things after Labor Day. We get a chance to breathe and try our some new things.
11. Can you share with us any new sausage that you are coming out with?
You have to try the Ramp-Andouille sausage. Ramp has this wonderful green onion and garlic taste so we thought this would compliment our Andouille sausage. It’s a short season on local Ramp so it’s a special spring sausage. A limited edition type of sausage we have in April, early May.
We’re also hoping to start serving a warm sandwich or brat during the weekends this year. We’ve had a lot of people who just want to drop in for a quick sandwich or brat and try our stuff before they buy a quantity. Maybe by the time you come back in warm weather, we’ll have that in place.
12. Your Bacon Jam has a cult like following. Where did this idea come from?
Pat: It literally walked in the door. One of my Dad’s friends loves food and cooking and he said he ran across this recipe. Well, he came back after making it and we tasted it and the light bulb went on.
The second thing that happened was that we made a big batch for my Dad’s wedding a couple years ago and everyone at the wedding loved it. The word of mouth thing happened and suddenly we were wall-to-wall with bacon jam crazed customers.
It’s a labor-intensive thing to make. It takes a lot of time to make and get right, so we only sell it on Sunday mornings and we sell one jar per person. We make 25 jars – so when it’s gone its gone.
It’s funny to see so many people up on a Sunday morning at the store.
13. Seasonings play a big part in sausage making; do you have a preferred source for seasonings?
We feel very blessed to have found Terra Spice (www.terraspicecompany.com) in Walkerton, Indiana. Phil Abbott runs it and one day he was making his rounds and came into our store. It was like finding a kindred spirit. He was into high quality spices done right. Plus he wanted to do it in a rural setting. We’re very happy with his spices and with Phil being another friend in the high quality sustainable food environment.
14. How many pounds of pork (sausage) do you see in a year?
Last year we did over 3500 pounds; this year we might be doing 5100 – but that’s a very big step for a store who still uses a hand crank sausage maker!
15. What kind of future do you see for Local in the next three years?
Right now we’re still doing incremental growth. We’d like to get more partnerships with pizza places and restaurants where we could be their designated sausage maker and they could point that out to their customers.
We might be doing some more ready to eat things at the store – so we’re looking into that as well.
16. What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned about running your business?
It is all consuming. We live here, sleep here, and focus on the business 24 hours a day. It is our child and it needs constant attention.
Pat and Ellie shared this recipe with Sausagefest:
Roasted Chorizo & Summer Vegetables
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 1 hour
Serves 6 people
2 eggplants, cut into thin rounds
6 tomatoes, cut into thin rounds
4 zucchini, cut into thin rounds
3 sweet yellow onions, cut into thin rounds
6 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves only
4 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
scant 1/2 cup olive oil
4 1/2 teaspoons sweet butter
6 links fresh chorizo sausages from LOCAL
Preheat oven to 325 F
Place all the vegetable rounds vertically, in layers, in a dutch oven. Add the thyme leaves, bay leaves, garlic, white wine, olive oil and butter. Prick the sausages and arrange them on top.
Cover & bake in the oven for 1 hour, until the vegetables are very tender. Season with sea salt & serve.
A Pound of Questions:
Q&A With Sam Edwards,
Surry, Va. – The Oldest Sausage Making Company in Virginia
1. Tell us about how your family got into the sausage making business?
President of S. Wallace Edwards & Sons
My great grandfather started a ferry operation between Jamestown and Surry. And, his son-in-law, my grandfather, and way to make extra money was to sell ham sandwiches on the ferry. Tourism was just getting going in the 1920’s. Colonial Williamsburg started in 1926 as a tourism destination, and he saw that as an opportunity.
Then as the tourist asked about where to buy this ham, he got into the mail order business. Then that led to the sausage business.
2. When you took over what advice were you getting from the last generation of leadership?
My grandfather was a super detailed quality guy. He was totally hands on down to grading every ham and grading it by his taste.
Even today, I smell the hams we’re making. I want to make sure they are special for whatever kind of hams we’re making.
3.Have you made any big mistakes?
I was out just out of college and I got a big box store and our volume went up and I was happy. But, then at the end of the year the accountants told me you made the same profit as last year. And, I realized that more volume at lower price doesn’t guarantee you profit growth. So, you have to know that – or learn it.
4. How may people in your company?
We have 35-40 employees most of the year. But, at the holidays we will staff up and get bigger.
5. What does your geographic market look like? What states do you distribute products too?
From Maryland to Florida is where we get 80% of our business. But we’re getting 50% of our revenue from our catalog.
Even for the restaurant trade we do about 80% of our business within 100 miles of us. But we do have restaurants in California using our pork.
6. What is your philosophy on making quality products?
Pay attention to the details all the time and you do it consistently. We pay attention to sausage. The temperatures, the seasonings, the quality of the meat – there’s a lot of factors. It gets complicated and then when you add smoke, it gets even more complicated.
7. How long do you hams cure for?
Curing hams is like making wine. It can take four to eighteen months to make a smoked ham.
8. Tell me about your Surryano ham.
That actually started as a joke. I was in New York City telling a chef about how unique are hams are. There’s more to ham than just ham slices. So just tongue and cheek I told him we are not calling our aged hams Serrano but Surryano. He put it on his menu and called it Surryano. Then other chefs in the city saw that and wanted it. So the name kind of stuck – that was in 2006 or 2005.
We use Berkshire hogs for Surryano and we age it longer. And about three months before slaughter, about half their feed is peanuts. This makes the ham taste better.
We’re big fans of the Berkshire hogs and we want pasture raised Certified Humane animals – which means no antibiotics and no added hormones.
9. Where do you get your pork from?
Ironically, we get most of our ham from the Midwest. We get most of our hogs from Kansas and Iowa, Pennsylvania. We get some from North Carolina. With corn being so plentiful in the Midwest, we’re seeing more of our pork coming from there.
I actually don’t buy that much from Smithfield even though they are not that far from us.
10. How often do you introduce new products?
We try to introduce new products yearly. We did smoked Italian Sausage. I had never seen it, so we created that and that tastes pretty good. We also did Bacon steaks.
Country Ham Sausage was new in 2012 and it took us five years to get it right. We made it too complicated. But, the key was brown sugar and that worked.
11. Can you share with us any new products that you are coming out with?
Spiraled slice country ham is new in the latest catalog.
12. What’s a unique product that you have that most folks may not know about?
Dandoodle sausage. It’s a unique, hickory-smoked sausage with natural hog casing. If you were from the rural south you would use this sausage as a flavoring in collard greens.
It’s the size of small softball. If you eat it with the collard greens that’s one way of eating it. But, I like to take it out of the greens, slice it and fry it up. And, you put it on white bread. That’s very good eating. We sell it on our website (www.virginatraditions.com)
13. With all the products you have, seasonings have to play an important part. Where do you get your seasonings?
We get them from A.C. Legg seasonings out of Birmingham, Alabama. We only buy three to four weeks worth at a time. We always want to have fresh seasonings in our products. http://www.aclegg.com
We’ve been using them since before I started working here. My grandfather came up with a recipe for our seasonings and he had the Legg folks pre-mix for us. These guys were very good at keeping the recipe consistent. We do test it on a regular basis – so again, we watch the details.
14. Americans have become very fat conscious in the last several years. What do you tell customers who are concerned about fat about your sausages and other meat products?
My grandmother told me to eat my vegetables and fruit and everything in moderation. She lived to be over 100 – not a health nut, just what she believed. She understood about balance. And, she eat collard greens and kale – now those are things you’re suppose to eat.
15. What’s been the biggest surprise for your business this year?
The state of Virginia is very helpful, but the Federal folks are hard to deal with because each department generates more work for us, and they don’t coordinate with each other. The inspector of the month does cause us more work and it gets to be a burden. With business being tough you think they might understand the costs involved, but it doesn’t seem that way.
16. Do you have any special sausage recipes that you can share with our readers?
A good breakfast casserole always works.
Edwards Breakfast Casserole
6 to 8 slices firm white bread
6 to 8 Edwards' country smoked sausage links
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 cup milk
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup Swiss cheese, grated
1. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Slice sausages in 1/8-inch thick circles or coins. Saute in an ungreased frying pan for 2 to 4 minutes. Drain well. Trim crusts from bread and fit into bottom of dish. Distribute sausage over bread. Place eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and milk in blender and blend well. Spread cheeses over sausage and cover with milk mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in refrigerator overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serves 6.
Edwards Website: www.edwardsvaham.com
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