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The Philadelphia Inquirer

News on 19 Oct 2016 | By Columnist Rick Nichols

Many links to his past

A third-generation butcher spreads his
South Philadelphia sausage gospel.

By Martin Giunta’s calculus, there were 40 retail butcher shops lining Ninth Street’s market back in the day, two belonging to his grandfathers – A. “Tony” Bonuomo, at 910 (where his name is still set in tile in the sidewalk); and Joseph L. Giunta, at 927, where the massive butcher block, meat saws, and showcases could be seen inside long after he locked the doors.

You can pick out the two in photographs propped against Martin’s office wall next to the window that looks out on the sausage-making floor in his South Jersey plant: In one picture, loops of sausage hang from an overhead pole; in another, spring lamb, goat and veal rest on hooks next to the butcher block.

The scenes are from the 1930s, near the peak of the Italian Market’s butcher-shop culture. That heyday had run its course by the ’70s, even as young Martin began cutting meat, and stuffing sausages, driving a truck to livestock auctions in New Holland and Paradise (and back to the family slaughterhouse at 10th and Washington).

A handful of artisan sausage-makers hung in – Sonny D’Angelo, for one. But Giunta sniffed greener pastures, literally as it turned out. He thought shoppers were treating the Italian Market as a bargain basement: The future, by the ’80s, was in high-end wholesale and the city’s emerging restaurant scene: Cafe Nola, the early Cajun spot, asked him for spicy (and exotic at the time) andouille and fresh chorizo. The Four Seasons ordered French garlic sausage.

He’s still mining that vein. Today, his veal and chicken boudin blanc with fresh mushrooms is a staple at Monk’s Cafe, the Belgian beer shrine. And his robust specialty sausages – broccoli rabe with red pepper, provolone with Italian parsley, chicken with Granny Smith apples – are sold under various labels in Genuardi’s and Shop-Rite, at Whole Foods (the “Lou’s” label) and DiBruno Bros., at Griggstown Quail Farm in Princeton, and in the Dietz & Watson rotation.

Most visibly, they line the cases at Martin’s Quality Meats and Sausage, the stall in the Reading Terminal Market where he first set up production after leaving Ninth Street. (The sausage-making was required to move to plants inspected by the USDA in order to sell wholesale. But Giunta’s father, Charles, still presides at the stall, which gets its Martin’s sausage trucked in daily.)

By 2002, with production poised to grow sixty-fold to its current 60,000 pounds a week, Giunta opened his low-slung, state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot sausage-making plant in greener pastures – the cornfields of Mickleton, Gloucester County, not far north of Swedesboro.

On a given day, a polyglot workforce of about 30 hand-trims the fat off pork butts: “You could roast that,” Giunta says, examining one. They (or as often as not chicken or turkey) are fed into giant buckets with slide-open bottoms that are hoisted over mixing hoppers. Pitchers of seasonings, cheeses or fruit go in. Then the blended contents are hand-fed into open-mouthed stuffers, which extrude the meat into hand-guided casings.

The casings can be touchy. One major client wants only peel-off cellulose casings, not traditional natural casings from pigs or sheep, the better to avoid any religious or ethnic proscriptions.

That can water down flavor. And so can another latter-day practice, modified-atmosphere packaging. (Martin is going retro, experimenting with tight hand-wrapping, hoping to retain more flavor while keeping sausages preservative-free.)

The seasonings, arguably, are better than ever – fragrant Dalmatian sage, sun-dried tomatoes, Granny Smith apples. Half the premium line is now poultry, unheard of in the pork-centered world of Giunta’s grandfathers. Yet the small-batch production remains boots-on-the-ground.

“We’re still doing it by hand,” said Giunta, peering through his office window: “. . . There’re [just] a lot more hands doing it.”

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