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Maestro Sausage Company: Masters of Premium Encased Pork
Chances are high than any sausage-eating Angeleno has already had a meaty treat from Maestro Sausage Company (Maestro). The fourth-generation family-owned and -operated company has been transforming pork picnics – also known as pork shoulders – into signature sausages since the 1920s, when it was better known as the Eastside Market. That company eventually took up the name Pontrelli & Laricchia Sausage when in the 1950s it transitioned from a corner Italian deli to a wholesale manufacturer and supplier of the Pontrelli family’s famous Italian links, and only recently started doing business as Maestro Sausage Company to be more congruent with the sausage brand, which has always been “Maestro.” Under any umbrella, though, the Maestro team and Pontrelli family proudly churn out the same high-quality Italian sausages and a handful of other specialty links using only premium ingredients.
The Vernon, Calif.-based company went by Pontrelli & Laricchia for much of its history but decided to change the name again to avoid confusion with its well-established brand, named as a tribute to the company founder, Domenico “Maestro” Pontrelli. The eccentric, fun-loving Domenico often pretended he was a bandleader and the Maestro company hopes to carry on his legacy by continuing to produce the perfectly spiced and marbled sausages that keep tourists and Angelenos singing a happy tune. It’s a spirit that is still instilled in products today thanks to consistent family involvement. “I started working here pretty much as soon as I was big enough to assemble the cardboard boxes for our sausages,” admits Nick Pontrelli, vice president of Maestro and Domenico’s great-grandson.
A Symphony of Spices
Crafting the perfect Maestro sausage requires premium, natural, hormone-free pork shoulder. Maestro insists on the cut for its limited fat content as high fat content causes the sausage to shrivel. The Maestro team then grinds the pork shoulder into the company’s renowned coarse-grind at extremely low temperatures to give the sausages excellent particle definition and a tender, succulent texture. A closely monitored signature blend of spices follows to give the product zip of delicate delicately balanced flavor and the mixture is finally encased using only premium natural hog casings to seal in the juices as it cooks. State-of-the-art manufacturing equipment massages the sausages and casings into links perfectly consistent in weight, length and diameter, and a top-of-the-line unwanted particle removal system ensures that no hard pieces of fat, gristle, or nerves ever wind up in one of their products. Maestro products don’t contain GMO ingredients, hydrogenated oils or trans fats.
Maestro produces roughly five recipes of Italian specialty sausages, with the most recognized being the company’s signature hot and mild variety (these top sellers rank in the most positively reviewed products on sausagereviews.com). This Italian staple’s popularity owes to the Pontrelli family’s fennel-based signature seasoning that even Ol’ Blue Eyes couldn’t get enough of. “Frank Sinatra used to order special deliveries of our sausages in the 1970s through Matteo’s Restaurant in West Los Angeles,” adds Nick. Matteo’s Restaurant was owned by a close childhood friend of the Italian crooner and legend has it Maestro’s was his sausage of choice when crafting a signature Sinatra Peppers and Onions dish.
The Maestro team, which is made of members of the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union AF-L-CIO Local 770, later expanded upon the staple with a Chicago-style variety perfect for a sausage, onion and sweet pepper hoagie. A few years ago Maestro also introduced a traditional Italian variety from a secret family recipe that calls for Port wine and Romano cheese. An Italian sausage with an oregano-based spice profile and goat milk cheddar followed swiftly after. The Italian portfolio of sausages was more recently rounded out by a three-pepper smoked sausage variety that brings a kick of jalapeño heat mellowed by sweet green and red bell peppers and a touch of brown sugar.
New additions beyond the Italian flavor profile include the Cajun staple Andouille, a Bavarian bratwurst, a snappy Mexican chorizo, the mild English banger, a smoky garlic Polish-style sausage, and both Portuguese and Brazilian varieties of linguiça sausage.
Quality First and Forever
Maestro products can be found at a number of delis, restaurants, pizzerias and food trucks across the Southern California region, well over 400, though it’s hard to say just how many since Maestro’s works both as a direct wholesaler and as a wholesaler to foodservice supply companies where the line of Maestro products have become a necessary mainstay for most large Southern Californian wholesalers. Consumers can purchase the products directly, though, at handful of delis and specialty grocers in the greater Los Angeles area, including the Eastside Market Deli. The company is also the exclusive sausage supplier to all three locations of L.A. and Orange County’s local, trendy butcher The Meat House.
“We try to incorporate the smaller local companies into our family, because that’s where our roots are,” states Nick. The company leans toward working with retailers equipped with deli display counters where the Maestro products can really shine amongst other premium products curated by passionate culinary professionals. Maestro’s also offers retailers additional marketing support services free of charge including signage, and pairing suggestions tailored to a retailer’s inventory. The Maestro team will also boost buzz with in-store product demos that draw in potential customers with the alluring aromas of succulent, simmering sausage.
Having grown up in the sausage business Nick also takes the time to bestow his expertise on others. “I sometimes teach the sausage portion of a course at a few local culinary academies so that these students might take our product with them when they graduate,” adds Nick. The company has also taken to the social media sphere to get the word out, and Maestro happens to have answered the most questions online at the Quora content-sharing portal under the sausage topic.
Nick hopes to expand the Maestro empire in the coming years. The company already has a presence beyond Orange County – as far south as San Diego, Calif., as far north as San Luis Obispo, Calif., and as far west as Las Vegas, Nev. – and the goal is to extend throughout the West Coast. Wherever its family of products pops up, the Pontrelli family will make sure consumers enjoy the same sense of satisfaction that has established the Maestro Sausage Company since the days of the Maestro himself.