It's 2 pm on a Wednesday afternoon and Bryan Rudd and Mike Malone are hanging out: drinking white wine, listening to Eurythmics and shoving pounds of fat-flecked ground kielbasa into a sausage stuffing machine that looks like the offspring of a button maker and a Tudor-era torture device.
"It's kind of a show," says Malone, gently pulling frozen pig entrails apart in a bowl. The pair slip the sausages' natural casings onto the machine's nozzle, debating the length of a single intestine. ("It could easily stretch floor to ceiling." "No, it could go from here to that window.") Malone cranks the machine's handle, pushing the vibrant red mixture into the casing as Rudd guides the sausage onto a table, expertly flicking his wrists to twist the alien-looking tube of meat into individual links.
It is a show: Rudd and Malone, the masterminds behind Gorilla Meats Co., make all their sausage and charcuterie by hand in batches no larger than five pounds. It's just the two of them—grinding the meat, inventing the recipes and stuffing the sausages, fueled by a soundtrack of '80s hits, bottles of wine and a passion for hands-on, high-quality charcuterie. The pair has steadily built an underground following for their sausages, which they prepare guerrilla-style in their home kitchens and sell online and at "sausage parties" where friends have paid to sample their wares since they launched the business in January. The two friends, who have cooked with one another recreationally for eight years, say they stumbled upon the charcuterie business.
"I wanted to learn to make bacon, and then we all tried it and thought, 'Think of all the other bacons we could make…'" Rudd explains. "And then it turned into duck prosciutto and sausage."
Malone is a self-taught cook; Rudd spent a year working on a pig farm in Iowa and later manned the deli at Portland's Piazza Italia. They say they try to stay true to the flavors of the meat, which is especially clear in their hickory-smoked guanciale, which they season with salt only, preserving the deep, almost sweet flavor of pig cheek. Their sausage recipes are more imaginative. Among the current lineup of six sausages, the "Cheeky Thai" shines with citrusy lemongrass and the palpable heat of bird's eye chili. An herby Greek sausage made from Carlton Farms pork shoulder bursts with feta, lemon zest and roasted Anaheim peppers—the natural casing adding a satisfying snap. And a "boarberry" sausage, though more traditional than the Thai, is sweet with actual berries. The wild boar neck meat makes for a lean, meaty sausage.
So far, their business is mostly underground. They don't have a storefront, but others are slowly jumping on the Gorilla bandwagon: Food cart Lardo in the Good Food Here pod currently serves their guanciale in a sandwich with asparagus, ricotta and preserved lemons. "If I can shake the hand of the guy who's producing my food, that's good for me," Lardo owner Rick Gencarelli says. "I like supporting those little guys."
"We consider ourselves a meat club, but really what we're doing is online selling to our friends, family and people we meet on a nightly basis," says Rudd. They're not in any rush to expand their business quite yet; experimenting with a more underground approach allows them to build a following without risking the capital on a storefront. They eventually hope to open storefronts in locations such as Seattle, San Francisco and Detroit.
Then again, that doesn't mean they'll quit throwing those meaty soirees: "I'll have sausage parties until the day I die," says Rudd.
- Order this: Guanciale; Greek sausage.
- Best deal: A pound of âCheeky Thaiâ sausage ($7).
- Iâll pass: The kielbasa just isnât as exciting as Gorillaâs other wares.
EAT: Find out about Gorilla Meats Co.'s sausage parties and meat offerings at gorillameats.com. Sausages $7-$10 a pound, charcuterie $6-$30.