Sausage Maker of The Month: Local Sausage
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.
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