Nueske’s Smokehouse Meats @ DiBruno Bros.
Angelo Colavita, cheesemonger/hameater
In 1882, approximately one whole century before the birth of your’s-truly, the Nueske family (pronounced NOO-skee) left their Prussian home for the village of Wittenberg, Wisconsin, bringing with them the old family methods for curing, spicing, and applewood-smoking meats. They built a smokehouse and fed themselves and were happy.
Fastforward to the Depression. 1933. Robert C. Nueske begins selling the family’s sausage, beef, and ham from his paneltruck across northern Wisconsin. He made some money (it was the Depression, afterall), but it was enough to expand his farm to six smokehouses and a butcher shop.
Fastforward to South Philadelphia, June of 1939. Danny and Joe DiBruno open a small cheeseshop in the Italian Market. They carried cheese from throughout Europe as well as sausage, beef, and ham for coldcuts.
Now, back to the Nueske Farm. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t say “farm” since no hogs are raised there. They are raised under the Nueske’s family standards in Iowa, the Dakotas, and Canada. Wisconsin is cheese-country.
The hogs are fed large amounts of barley and corn, larger than usual (hence the expression “eat like a pig”), and are slaughtered at certain weights. This makes for a leaner meat, without compromising its flavor. Not to mention, less salt; Nueske’s ham contains less, alot less, sodium nitrate than most hams; try forty times less sodium nitrate than what the USDA allows… That’s one happy, healthy hog.
Now the ham is spiced and cured and sent off to the smokehouses.
Fastforward to the present-day. Right now, Nueske’s is running on sixteen steel-lined, concrete block smokehouses, heated by the sweet, glowing embers of applewood logs. For a minimum of 20 – 24 hours, the meat is smoked over the applewood with frequent systematic “checkpoints.” Every piece of meat, no matter what, is observed and tested throughout the smoking process. That’s more than I can say for commercial smokehouses. Usually, the meat is only smoked for about 5 hours, and checkpoints are determined by flipping a coin, or spinning a bottle, or throwing a dart blindfolded. Perhaps, this highly unscientific method of smoking is the reason why most other applesmoked meats pale in comparison to Nueske’s…
Flashback to Normandy, 1857. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert is published. The book is declared as “immoral” and Flaubert recedes into epileptic recluse.
Fastforward to the present-day. South Philadelphia. The House of Cheese. Nueske’s Smokehouse meats arrive at the shop. There was the applesmoked ham, as well as smoked beef, bacon, landjaeger, and spiral-sliced ham on the bone.
Fastforward. Angelo is making room in the deli-case for the new Nueske meats. Hunter and Zeke talk literature with a customer while Angelo is on his knees squeezing a colossal smoked ham between two narrow shelves. Angelo, being a writer, can not help but observe. Hunter raises a knife with a sample of brie at its sharp tip.
“Now this,” he says, “is from Normandy. Le Pont Leveque.”
“Hey, Hunter,” Zeke interjects, “Wasn’t Flaubert from Normandy?”
“Actually,” says Angelo, “he was born in Rouen, but lived a majority of his life in Normandy.” They all ignore him. Angelo continues with his ham. The shelves won’t let the ham in. As Zeke walks past Angelo he says, “Havin’ a little trouble with that ham?”
“It’s too big for the case.”
“Well,” says Zeke, “Then you might just have to,” and with a wink, “cut some off…”
“…and make a sandwich…” Angelo says. “I think you’re on to something.”
To Be Continued…