Meet the sausage kings of Sonoma County
Although Father's Day is not traditionally associated with sausages, it is a day when dads and sons and daughters cook outside, celebrating the beginning of summer and savoring big flavor, what some call “manly” flavors. Sausages fit right in.
“I associate the day more with steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs,” Rian Rinn, co-founder of Santa Rosa's Sonoma County Meat Co., said, “but there are seasonal sausages that we do sell for the holiday.”
Rinn and his crew make more than 50 types of sausages, with a rotating selection available each day.
For Sunday's outdoor feasts, Rinn suggests some of his boldest flavors, including the whimsical Cheeseburger Sausage, made of ground beef, bacon, cheese and onions.
Other recommendations include Apple-Fennel, with pork, onion, sage and vinegar; Butifarra, made of pork garlic, cumin, black pepper, nutmeg and vinegar; fresh Spanish Chorizo, with pork garlic, paprika and cumin; Provence, with pork, lavender and savory; Jalapeno Cheddar, with pork, pickled jalapeños, beer, onion and an array of spices and herbs; and an old-fashioned style hot dog, twice the size of a commercial dog and both succulent and delicious.
For bread, Rinn prefers Franco-American hot dog buns - ask the bakery to slice them for you, he suggests - and has a less-is-more attitude about condiments.
For the Chorizo, Butifarra and Provence, he urges nothing more than aioli. Sausages so full of flavor need no masking.
But load up your hot dog, if you like, he adds, suggesting Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, sauerkraut and savory (not sweet) pickle relish.
“Ketchup is not necessary,” Rinn says, echoing President Obama's preference, who lightheartedly joked that you shouldn't put the popular condiment on a hot dog if you're over 8.
A wealth of wienies
Rinn, who has been making sausages for nearly two decades and honed his skills at Willowside Meats, which offers their own line of delicious links, opened Sonoma County Meat Co. four years ago. The company's emphasis is whole animal butchery; even trim is ground into healthy pet food. He divides his sausages into three groups: classic/regional; dirty, with big and sometimes crazy flavors; and staff-inspired. This year, the company has added few new sausages and instead has retested and honed existing recipes.
Rinn joins several other master sausage makers in Sonoma County, though he is one of the biggest. Sonoma County Meat Co. sausages are sold not only out of the plant's retail shop but also at such markets as Oliver's, Big John's in Healdsburg, Berkeley Bowl, and Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based on-line delivery service.
Franco Dunn of Healdsburg has been making sausages for decades, since he was the roommate of Bruce Aidells back when the “Sausage King” began his company in their apartment. Now Dunn produces about 60 kinds under the name One World Sausages. He and his brother, Dennis Dunn, sell the sausages at several local farmers markets.
Dunn calls himself a sausage anthropologist, and his inspiration comes from a curious source.
He is an avid on-line Scrabble player, meeting people from around the world as he plays. He encourages fellow players to talk about their regional sausages, then coaxes them into providing recipes.
Yanni's Sausages closed its tiny Penngrove restaurant last winter and now focuses on retail and restaurant distribution, with about a dozen flavors.
Other major players include Caggiano Sausages, produced in Petaluma and distributed throughout the region, and Occidental's Panizerra Meat Co., which has been making sausages for over a century.
There are smaller producers, too, many of which offer their sausages exclusively at farmers' markets where they also sell their locally raised meats, poultry and eggs.
Most supermarkets, including Pacific Markets, Oliver's Markets and Community Market in Sebastopol, offer house-made sausages, as well.
How to cook a sausage
Perhaps surprisingly, Rinn tests all his sausages in a microwave.
“It is the most disgusting way to cook meat,” he explained, “and so if it is good in a microwave, it will be really good cooked any other way.”
The best method of cooking, he believes, is with indirect heat, preferably on a griddle or plancha, which allows the cook to roll the sausage so that the skin is not overcooked in any one area.
If you use a charcoal grill, the hot coals should be pushed to the sides and the sausages lined up down the middle. Turn them frequently, he advises.
This process not only cooks the sausages more evenly; it also prevents fire flare-ups if any fat leaks.
You'll know a sausage is thoroughly cooked when it is firm when you press it. If it is soft and squishy, it is still raw inside, and if it is rock hard, it is overcooked.