Chicago-Area Sausage Makers Showcase Links to the Old World
If taste, texture and Old World traditions create art, then Gene’s Sausage Shop exemplifies as much a studio as it does a butcher shop.
Four skilled butchers with rich heritages in the craft hand-make the sausages sold at Gene’s in Chicago. Two of the butchers emigrated from Poland, one from Czechoslovakia and one from Mexico. They understand meat at a level indescribable to those without the skill set.
The Art of Sausage Making in Chicago
“Butchering is a real art in order to save the different cuts of meat,” says Derek Luszcz, president of Gene’s Sausage Shop. “A well-trained butcher will know, especially when you’re making sausage, that you use certain parts of the animal so the sausage is nice and the meat is not chewy. It’s almost an art form.”
And the art form thrives at Gene’s Sausage Shop, with locations on Belmont Avenue and in Lincoln Square. There, siblings and shop co-owners Derek and Yolanda Luszcz proudly replicate their father’s culinary traditions. Gene Luszcz learned to make sausage while growing up on a farm in Poland. He founded the shop and became its first butcher in 1972. After more than 40 years, some things stay the same.
“We still make sausage the old-fashioned way – by hand,” Derek says. “You can actually feel the texture of the sausage.”
The Luszcz family maintains old wood-burning smokehouses in the basement. They use real cherry wood with mesquite. They choose natural casings and use no preservatives or fillers, only freshly butchered pork and beef.
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Routine tastings win over new customers. With more than 40 sausage varieties available, one likely will please the palate. Customers range from young American business professionals to those with a sausage preference driven by their European descent, Yolanda says.
“I think general curiosity draws customers to our products,” she says. “All of our smoked meats can be sampled at our deli counter. It’s pretty much guaranteed that once a person does try it, they end up purchasing it and become a regular customer of that product.”
The shop’s most popular sausage, Derek says, remains a traditional Polish sausage – the kielbasa. Their varieties of bratwurst rank a close second.
German-Style Sausage at Koenemann’s
Likewise, bratwurst proves a summertime favorite at Koenemann Sausage Co. in Volo, northwest of Chicago. Will Koenemann, company president, says other customer favorites include the Landjaeger (a salami stick once carried by Old World land hunters), Westphalian (a rich, creamy sausage) and all the liver sausages. The summer season boosts interest in frankfurters, too.
Will’s parents emigrated from Germany where they learned the sausage-making trade. They founded the business in 1939. Today, Koenemann Sausage Co. sells more than 60 varieties of sausage through its retail location, nationwide distributors and online sales.
Will continues to use his parents’ recipes and techniques today, even if they take more time. A product that a big-brand food company may produce within one to two days takes closer to a month the old-fashioned way, he says.
“It’s the way we used to do it and still do it,” he says.
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