It's a Saturday afternoon at Lawrenceville's Farmer's Market, and resident Jane Collins awaits a bag of Italian habañero cheddar sausage from the market's newest vendor, Salted Pig. "It's the best hot sausage I've ever eaten," she exclaims.
Despite being established just two months ago by three lifelong friends — Brandon Gajdos, Blair Hohn III and Michael Pizzuto — Salted Pig is already making a big impression on Pittsburgh's food scene.
"What we hope sets us apart is that we don't add any fillers, like soy protein or preservatives," says Pizzuto.
Each week, the trio meets in a Bloomfield commercial kitchen rented from Earthen Vessels Outreach, where they craft 135 pounds of market-ready, naturally-cased sausage. The 14-hour process calls on techniques that meld Pizzuto's Italian heritage — his great-grandmother was from Abruzzi — with Gajdos' Slovakian/Italian roots and catering chef Hohn's Le Cordon Blue culinary training.
Beginning with 150 pounds of pork butt — antibiotic- and hormone-free — sourced from Saxonburg's Thoma Meat Market, the owners cut, trim and coarsely grind the sausage. This method, plus the addition of fennel (a blend of cracked, whole and powdered seed), comes from Pizzuto's family. So does the most important ingredient: "My great-uncle used wine in his Italian sausage," Pizzuto says.
The wine "costs more," he acknowledges, "but adds layers of flavor that you don't get from water."
Perfecting their recipes, say the Salted Pig owners, took five years. And today, packages of Hot Italian, Sweet Italian and 7AM Maple — which uses local Yeany's Maple Syrup —and other links chill in a cooler, awaiting new, and already loyal, customers.
Salted Pig eventually hopes to expand to dry-cured, slow-fermented meats. But for now they seem more than happy to watch the contents of that cooler disappear at the weekly market (which is held from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Saturdays, at 52nd Street and Berlin Way).
"There's a lot of young people," says Pizzuto of Pittsburgh's food scene. "Everybody seems to be more educated now: Farm-to-table seems to be taking off." And Salted Pig seems to be sprouting wings of its own.