Last summer, Stephen Hodgdon started selling fresh sausages at Missoula farmers markets, and serving cooked ones from a cart, under the banner of Clark Fork Charcuterie. Over the fall and winter, Hodgdon’s charcuterie found a new partner in Clark Fork Custom Meats, an unrelated but coincidentally named meat processor in Plains that can process meat for wholesaling. Using animals from Arcadia Farms in Trout Creek and the Lyon Ranch in Drummond, Hodgdon is producing fresh sausages and cured meats that are now available in Missoula grocery stores
We talked to Hodgdon about the work required to process wholesale meat, the different kinds of sausage he sells and how to describe mortadella to someone who’s never seen it.
Feast: Who’s the producer you’re working with now?
Stephen Hodgdon: I’m working with Clark Fork Custom Meats out of Plains.
They are a state-certified meat processor and by going through them, I can then wholesale to grocery stores and restaurants, whereas doing it myself, before, I was not certified by the Department of Livestock. I didn’t have my own facilities to do it in. It would have been virtually impossible to do wholesale on my own without building up my own plant.
They’re really great. There’s a lot of helping out other people in your industry, because when you grow the smaller meat producers, we’re all in it together up against the big name-brands and industrial food supply. Of course it’s not all altruistic. I’m paying them to make sausage for me, and I want it to be to their benefit as well. It needs to be if they’re going to do a good job and do a consistent product, and I totally trust they will, so I’m excited.
And they have nice machinery that is relatively new that makes the process much more efficient. People can look on my social media and see videos of their sausage stuffer that can do 60 links a minute automatically. It increases my efficiency 15- to 20-fold. In the long run, this shop can do 800 pounds a day of sausages.
What types of sausages are you going to be selling?
I think there’s an interesting distinction to make about sausage types. There are different textures you get in different sausages, and that plays into the mouthfeel and experience. There are fresh sausages, which is what people think of when they think of Italian sausage or breakfast sausage — a coarser grind that is much closer to just blending ingredients with meat. You’re going to feel that pop in the casing, the chewiness of it, when you’re eating that.
And then you get into the finer-ground products, which become emulsified, which are generally known as emulsified sausages. This is what a hot dog is, and it’s what bologna is. Weisswurst is the one I’m happiest about of the emulsifieds, for just a pure sausage. This is a classic German sausage with lemon and parsley, and it’s generally eaten before noon in Germany.
What varieties will be in stores?
Weisswurst, bratwurst, loukaniko (a Greek sausage that’s highlighted by orange peel and Mediterranean spices), a sort of mildly sweet breakfast sausage that’s got dried apple in it, and mortadella.
Are people at the markets familiar with mortadella? How would you explain it to them?
Yeah, I would say there are plenty of people who do know what it is. The short answer is, “It’s like bologna, just better.” It’s basically a large-diameter sausage with a different spice profile. There’s pistachios in this version, and that’s kind of a classic version, and then there’s larger chunks of fat, and that is classic mortadella. Health nuts be damned, there are literally large chunks of pork fat. It’s all cooked and it works as a texture.
What plans do you have for the spring and summer? Are you still going to take the cart out?
This summer is probably going to be limited to farmers markets and a couple of special events. I’ll stick with the Missoula Farmers Market and then I will try to have a stand selling just sausage at the Clark Fork Market. The big thing is really the wholesaling.
Which stores will be carrying Clark Fork Charcuterie?
Missoula Fresh Market on Broadway and the Good Food Store.
Do you still do any work in a kitchen in Missoula? Or is everything done in Plains now?
Everything’s there. Except I will be utilizing a commercial kitchen here in town for farmers market cleanup and some meat storage.
Department of Livestock certified plants fall under state inspection, which is what’s required to sell wholesale. They are way more rigorously enforced when you’re under wholesale inspection, versus city and county.
There’s only a handful of meat plants over here [in Missoula]. There’s a reason meat costs a lot and has to be transported, and Missoula County hasn’t been the place people have chosen to set up shop. I chose to go the contracting route with a local producer, where we can still maintain our values doing it this way. My goal all along has been to try to be a part of bolstering the local food chain.
It just seems to make sense, and is more appealing, and it’s why I’ve enjoyed starting this business. Hopefully this can be a robust long-term company that supports local farmers and the preservation of local land and ensures we’re not using all of our carbon footprint for food transportation.
Clark Fork Charcuterie can be found at clarkforkcharcuterie.com and on Instagram @clarkforkcharcuterie.