North Bay residents are never far from a scrumptious sausage, plump, juicy and bursting with flavor, tucked into a soft roll or warm pita, sliced into a fragrant paella, tossed with pasta and napped in a tangy sauce, stirred into a soup or simply pulled off the grill.
Nearly every farmers market has at least one sausage maker and many have several meat vendors with both signature links and bulk mixtures. Local supermarkets feature house-made sausages along with other local brands, such as Petaluma’s Caggiano Company.
The ubiquity of delicious sausages made of everything from rabbit, chicken and duck to lamb, goat, pork, wild boar and beef reveals an abundance easily taken for granted.
Historically, sausages were born of “la miseria,” or extreme poverty. In Italy, after the fall slaughter of the family pig, for example, a portion was given to the landlord, a portion sold and the parts that remained, every last bit, was packed into a casing and known as “cotechino,” which comes from the word “cotenna” or skin, important in sausage, then and now. Sausages were dried, to last through the lean months of winter.
Today, sausages are made with prime cuts of meat, aromatics such as garlic, shallots and onions, fresh herbs, fragrant spices, wine, vinegar and sometimes cheese, olives, citrus, and other fruits, fresh chiles, cabbage, sun-dried tomatoes and more. No matter the mixture, sausages are stuffed into natural casings, the small intestines of a lamb, pig or steer.
Tara Ross, a long-time chef and pastry chef, founded Gypsy Girl Sausage Company in Santa Rosa about five years ago, after studying the craft with chef Franco Dunn, whom she refers to as the “godfather of sausage.” She produces nine varieties, including a Spanish-style fresh chorizo, a lamb merguez and one called “Riveting Rose,” with fresh pork, fresh chiles, shallots, chervil, clove and, the signature ingredient, rose water.
Ross’s company is located within Golden Gate Meat Company’s wholesale facility near downtown Santa Rosa. Because she works in a USDA-certified plant, required for wholesale distribution, her sausages are available in retail stores, such as Bohemian Market in Occidental and Shelton’s Natural Foods Market in Healdsburg. You’ll also find her at several farmers markets.
Dunn, who calls his company One World Sausages, makes his products, which include lard, pancetta and one of the most delicious patés you will ever taste, at Geyserville’s Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria, where chef and owner Dino Bugica also makes sausage.
“Dino has such a natural feel for Italian cuisine,” Dunn says of the chef he met when he first returned some years ago to his restaurant, Taverna Santi, after a health crisis landed him in the hospital for several months.
The two made salumi and sausage together at Santi before it moved to Santa Rosa and then closed. Now Dunn is back in Geyserville, though only for production. He and his brother, Dennis Dunn, sell One World Sausage products at local farmers markets.
Dunn frequently calls himself a sausage anthropologist, referring to his tendency to search wide and deep before making anything new. He gleans traditional recipes from the Internet, sometimes receiving them from Scrabble partners in distant countries. That’s where he found his Goan sausage recipe and his recipe for Zalzett Malti, a traditional sausage from the island country of Malta, which he makes a couple of times a year.