President Clinton was in Newark for a fundraiser a number of years ago when he tried linguica from a small sausage shop on Walnut Street in the Ironbound.
The president must have liked what he tasted because a few days later, the White House cook called Herminio Lopes, the owner of Lopes Sausage Co.
“At first, I thought it was a put on,” Lopes said. “Then I took the order down, they gave me a credit card number and the credit card went through. The Secret Service showed up after that and did a background check on all the employees. And I said okay, I guess this is real.”
Herminio Lopes, owner of Lopes Sausage Co.
Lopes Sausage had been a staple at the White House until the arugula-eating President Obama moved in along with a new executive chef who favored a healthier meal plan that was more veggie, less sausage.
If Hillary Clinton secures the White House, there's a good chance linguica will be back on the menu. Until then, however, anyone willing to make the trek to the Ironbound can feast on sausage fit for a president.
The Lopes Sausage Company opened its doors in 1965. Originally called Mendez and Lopes Sausage before Mendez moved on, the store marked its 50th anniversary in June.
Opening a bag of linguica from Lopes Sausage Company releases a scent of kitchens past where my grandmother would cook all day, making me feel instantly young again, really taking me home.
But you don’t have to be from Portugal or Newark to enjoy the unique smoked linguica. Lopes has distributors that sell the special sausage to buyers in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Massachusetts.
And for people far away with no direct retail connection, they can just call the store and order - Lopes will ship linguica door-to-door through UPS or FedEx. Lopes Sausage Company produces between 6,000 and 8,000 pounds of sausage per week, so there is plenty for everyone.
The Ironbound has been a strong Portuguese community for decades. Lopes’ father moved to America in 1956 and became a short order cook in Detroit. Almost ten years later, some of the Portuguese community in the Midwestern metropolis started to move to New Jersey for construction jobs. Lopes’ father decided to move to New Jersey, and his mother followed a couple months later. It was in Newark's Ironbound that the family's roots were planted and where then Lopes family would become the local lords of linguica.
So - why linguica?
“It was either make sausage or bread, and my father decided to make a sausage company instead of a bakery," said Herminio Lopes, a comment on two common Portuguese culinary traditions in the Ironbound.
Fifty years after his family founded their business, Lopes is a second-generation sausage maker who makes what is arguably the best linguica in the Ironbound. But with today’s volatile small business market, many of the neighborhood's respected culinary traditions are in danger of being lost.
“I went to Seton Hall University and graduated. I worked for a year and decided I’d rather come back to the family business," said Lopes, explaining why he chose to continue his family's traditional trade. "My father was getting older, he wanted to retire and I’m an only child. So I took over the business.”
Lopes continues the tradition and supplies many of the Ironbound restaurants with sausage, including linguica. Local Newark restaurants, as well as restaurants from Miami to New England, slice up the linguica and flambé it in a dish they call "fire water."
But if you want to stay in and cook your own meal, Lopes suggests simply slicing and frying linguica in a little olive oil, which he likes to do with friends down the Jersey Shore. He also noted there is an upsurge of Portuguese culture and second-generation Portuguese businesses in Toms River and in nearby Point Pleasant.
Portuguese-Americans, however, still often return to the Ironbound to do their family shopping, especially for the linguica that Lopes suggests putting into a traditional bean stew, or even on pizza, a favorite use of linguica in the Boston area as well as in the Ironbound (including using a recipe listed below).
Whatever way you slice it, linguica makes a great bite while watching the current 2016 presidential campaign. Who will win is not clear yet. But if the candidates order linguica from Lopes Sausage Company in the Ironbound, they will actually live up to a constant campaign theme - a promise to support small businesses, one of which became the way that the Lopes family realized their own version of the American Dream.
Boston Scarlette, food editor and lifestyle journalist, interviews Newark personalities with enthusiasm and with the love of her Portuguese heritage.
Linguica Pizza Recipe - How My Grandmother Would Tell It
1 Ball of Pizza Dough (local shops usually sell it for $5)
Family Pizza Sauce with Red Wine (enough to cover pizza)
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese)
Linguica (from Lopes Sausage Company)
Family Pizza Sauce:
Large can of peeled tomatoes
Large can of tomato sauce
Medium can of tomato paste
1 cup of red wine
½ cup of basil sugar (or plain sugar)
Melt one stick of butter and add garlic salt to taste.
Blend all pizza sauce ingredients and pour into large pot. Bring to boil and simmer on low to medium until thickens. Make sure to skim top. Set sauce aside. Roll out dough and put on pizza tray. Add sauce, then fresh spices and garlic. Layer manchego cheese, linguica and fresh mozzarella. Baste crust with melted garlic butter. Place in preheated oven of 350 degrees. Bake until cheese is melted and edges are golden brown - about 8 to 10 minutes.
Although we did not get the Lopes family linguica recipes, it was shared that red wine goes into the sausage in order to provide color and flavor.