Sausage paradise

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.

“I have to understand a sausage really well before making it,” Dunn said, “and I might spend five years studying it, as I did with Thai sausage.”

Bugica is the exact opposite of Dunn, who enjoys his colleague’s enthusiasm.

“He’ll discover something and want to make it right away,” Dunn said, naming Calabrian andouille and blood sausages as two they have worked on together.

Tug on any sausage and you will be led, sooner or later, to Bruce Aidells, the contemporary “Sausage King.”

Aidells founded his sausage company in Berkeley in 1983, making 10-pound batches at a time. A series of circumstances led young Franco Dunn to becoming Aidells’ first employee. Dunn, who was Aidells’ roommate, helped with production instead of paying rent. The rest, as they say, is history, delicious history.

Aidells left his company in 2003. Today it is part of Hillshire Brands, which was quite recently acquired by Tyson Foods, a multi-billion-dollar international corporation.

He may not be involved with commercial production, but Aidells has not left sausages behind.

“I just made what I call a poor-man’s paella,” he said from his home in Berkeley, “with Gypsy Girl chorizo, saffron and Carnaroli rice.”

“I look at sausages as flavor bombs. They already have so much flavor built in that you can rely on the sausage for all the flavors in a dish. You don’t need a huge spice pantry at home; you rely on your sausage maker to have it.”


Tara Ross suggests starting her sausages on top of the stove and finishing them in the oven and warns that they should not be pricked before cooking, a common practice that allows fat to leach out. But Gypsy Girl sausages have less fat than most commercial brands and should be cooked with their cases intact. This is one Ross’s favorite ways to enjoy her chorizo. Serve it with a big simple green salad and an ice-cold pilsner.

Gypsy Girl Chorizo and Fried Padrons

Serves 2 to 4

4 (about 1 pound) Gypsy Girl chorizo sausages

- Olive oil

1 pound Padron or Shishito chiles

- Kosher salt or Maldon Salt Flakes

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Set a heavy pan, such as a cast iron skillet, over medium heat and when the pan is hot, add the chorizo and cooking rotating the sausages frequently until they are evenly colored, about 7 minutes.

Transfer the pan to the oven and cook, rotating the sausages once or twice, until they have begun to firm up. When ready, transfer them to a platter, cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and return the pan to high heat.

Add the chiles, working in batches as needed and frying, tossing frequently, until they just begin to soften and their skins take on a bit of color. Add to the platter, sprinkle with salt and enjoy hot.


Both Franco Dunn and Bruce Aidells recommend grilling sausages slowly, over indirect heat. If using a charcoal grill, this means setting them to the side, not immediately above the coals. If using a gas grill, they should be put on the upper rack. Sausages should be removed from the heat when they have begun to firm up but are hard. “It is better to undercook a sausage than to overcook it,” Dunn warns. This simple recipe can be used as a template, with whatever sausages, seasonal vegetables and condiments you prefer.

Simple Grilled Sausages with Summer Vegetables

Serves 4 to 6, easily doubled

2 pounds fresh sausages of choice

6 red bell peppers

6 poblano chiles

2 or 3 large white or red onions, cut into thick rounds

6 fresh ears of corn, shucked

- Kosher Salt

- Black pepper in a mill

5 or 6 garlic cloves, minced

- Lemon or lime wedges

- Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard or other mustard of choice, optional

Start a fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill. When hot, set the sausages to the edge of the heat, the peppers and onions over the heat and the corn near the sausages. Turn everything frequently.

Remove the peppers when their skins are charred, the onions when they are blackened and have begun to soften and the corn when it is fragrant and taken on color.

When the sausages are ready - it will take from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the heat and the type of sausage - transfer them to a serving platter, add the onions and corn, season with salt and pepper, cover with a tea towel and set aside.

Working quickly, skin the peppers, cut out the stem cores, cut them into wide slices and add to the platter. Sprinkle the garlic over the peppers and squeeze a little lemon or lime juice over them.

Serves hot, with mustard alongside if you like.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 17 books to date, including “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings.” You’ll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at Email Jordan at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette