My childhood home was Cuban, but the kitchen was Spanish. My mom, born in Cuba but conceived in Spain, was raised in a Spanish immigrant household, where bean-and-sausage pots were everyday fare, and she cooked that way herself.
There were chickpeas and white beans. There was morcilla — blood sausage from my grandparents’ province of Asturias. And, of course, there was chorizo, the Spanish cured pork sausage, made red from a generous dose of paprika.
When I lived for a few months in Madrid in the late 1960s, I discovered there were many kinds of chorizo: some for frying, some for boiling, some for slicing as a cold cut. And there were regional chorizos — a farmer would show up at my door selling chorizo and honey from the Castilian countryside.
In Miami, where Spanish food has been commonplace since the Cubans brought their Hispanicized tastes, supermarkets carry chorizo, often made in the Northeastern United States, and some sell brands from Spain, which fetch higher prices. But sooner or later, it was bound to happen: locally made, artisanal chorizo.
Ernesto and Lola Lefranc, from Malaga in southern Spain, were living in Atlanta, and not finding much in the way of Spanish staples, they made chorizo at home for the family. It’s something they continued doing when Ernesto, an electrical engineer, was transferred to Miami three years ago.
“Word got around,” Ernesto says.
Friends lucky enough to sample their chorizo told others, and the couple decided there was enough word-of-mouth to fuel a business.
Their Southwest Eighth Street locale, Lola’s Gourmet, began as a deli for selling their sausages. It expanded to wine and tapas. And it became, “without our even realizing what was going on,” says Ernesto, a restaurant and night spot, with flamenco shows and comedy acts.
The clientele gets lively and breaks into song, even at an afternoon birthday luncheon. The food is good, homemade fare, but the showpieces are the sausages.
The Lefrancs make them in a moderately spacious kitchen in the back, grinding the meats with a coarse blade to get the right texture. The meats are mixed by hand with Spanish spices, and a machine stuffs them into natural casing — pig, cow or sheep, depending on the sausage.
Then the sausages are hung to dry on racks in a chamber with a temperature of 50 degrees and 50 to 65 percent humidity for a minimum of 18 days; any variation can ruin the product.
The sausages are sold exclusively at Lola’s. The Lefrancs have yet to acquire permits to distribute them to other stores or sell them online.
A sausage lover all my life, I was delighted to polish my education on Spanish chorizo and its relatives. The original Lola’s chorizo is casero (homemade), a soft, mildly spiced item, good as is or cooked.
Cantimpalo is a thicker, dry sausage for slicing as a cold cut, like its Italian cousin, salami.
Chistorra is a thin, coiled sausage for frying, often cooked in wine, as it’s served at the restaurant, or brandy.
And chorizo parrillero is a raw pork product without the others’ distinctive paprika, not unlike Argentine chorizo, best for grilling.
The Lefrancs make two morcilla blood sausages with onion: one dry for stews and a softer one for frying. A thicker morcilla with rice is meant to be sliced and fried.
They also make sobrasada, typical of the Balearic Islands, a creamy chorizo for spreading on bread.
There’s a salchichón de Malaga, a thin chorizo without paprika, meant to be eaten as a cold cut. And a chicken liver pâté from the recipe of a restaurant in their hometown.
I bought some sausages to try at home. The salchichón was a terrific appetizer, with the bite of peppercorns encouraging another sip of wine; I’d had mass manufactured versions, and this was several cuts above.
Chorizo casero was fine by itself, but its flavor blossomed when fried — I deglazed it with sherry-like manzanilla, which may or may not be traditional, and it had great taste.
Since I had both chorizo and morcilla, I made alubias — white beans — with both. I cooked the morcilla too long, and it dissolved into the bean stew, but flavored it nicely. The chorizo held up, and its chunks were fabulous in a bean dish I’d had in Avila, where it’s typical. I tried the morcilla fried and loved it.
Lola’s Gourmet sausages are $12 a pound except the Cantimpalo chorizo, which is $14.
For the time being, at least, one has to trek to Lola’s to buy it, though a visit to their restaurant makes the trip doubly worthwhile.
Others are getting into the artisanal chorizo act, too, like Imperial, a brand available at local Spanish delis, including Lola’s, which sells its fuet, a paprika-free Catalan chorizo. Imperial is made in upstate New York by a sausage maker from the Extremadura region of Spain.
Locavore usually means the region where one resides, and in that sense, Lola’s Gourmet fits the bill. But the thrust of the movement also brings an awareness of regional traditions from abroad. Recipes from Malaga and other places in Spain are popping up in Miami.
Like wines, food has domains, but today Spanish wine is being made in the States, at places like at the Abacela winery in Oregon. A new breed of Spanish expatriates and American enthusiasts is reshaping the American palate to be more like, well, mine.
Miami writer Enrique Fernandez can be reached at email@example.com.