I like the blood-tongue sausage better than the Hungarian headcheese. In fact, I like the boy scout better than the Hungarian headcheese. I’m trying some of the more unusual homemade items on the menu at the Valley Hungarian Sausage and Meat Co., located on the Pearblossom Highway in Littlerock, Calif. out in the Mojave Desert about 1 1/2 hours north of Los Angeles.
For Angelinos out for a day trip, the windy, dusty, Pearblossom Highway (made famous by the David Hockney print of the same name), just east of the 14 freeway is a portal to another world. The first hamlet on the “main drag” is Littlerock. Keep your eyes peeled on the left shoulder after the McDonald’s, for “8809,” an unassuming beige-stucco-with-green-trim building and hand-painted sign that says “Valley Hungarian Sausage and Meat Co.” in red lettering.
Pull straight into the small parking lot. Sausage aficionados can’t miss the wafting aroma of spices and smoked meats and the cheery, artfully decorated eatery with wooden tables and a deli case stocked full of an assortment of tasty delicacies is the epitome of roadside epicurean hospitality.
I’m sampling blood sausage for the first time. It’s creamy, a little heavy, and spiced with nutmeg. Next, I try the headcheese. One of the employees explains to me that many parts of the pig head are used to make it, including the snout, which helps the gelatinous material between the chunks of meat congeal. Yummy!
But not all of the many varieties of sausage (twenty-six of them are made on the premises) require such an adventurous palette. There is French apple sausage, Swedish potato sausage, dried “boy scout” sausage (which needs no refrigeration), pork bratwurst, gypsy salami and Hungarian garlic sausage (of which they sell 150 pounds a week) to name a few. They have even made a veggie, tofu-based sausage for a student film crew.
Hunters come into the shop with their bounties of venison, bear, wild boar, elk, duck and goose to have the fresh meat processed into sausages. According to Maria Watson (her Hungarian maiden name was Vargas), one of the owners of this family-run business, “The bear tasted the most gamey,” but all are delicious.
The Vargas are the third owners of the Valley Hungarian Sausage and Meat Co. The original owners opened the place in 1980 and kept it going for several years. The second owner quickly brought it to bankruptcy. In 1994, the Vargas family took over. “It was a lot of work,” explains Watson. “The place was a dump.” The Vargas are hard workers, sometimes toiling way for twelve hours a day.
Maria is a tall, somewhat imposing, stocky, middle-aged no-nonsense type of woman. Her mother, Julia Varga, also one of the owners, works side-by-side with her daughter. She’s a head shorter than Maria and comes out from the back of the store with a hair net, a red apron and clear plastic gloves on. It seems that she, with a few employees, is cleaning 800 pounds of meat that has to be cut. She may be smaller than her daughter but you can tell she’s just as tough. Vargas came from communist Hungary to the United States in 1956 to escape oppression and starvation there and “For freedom. At that time,” she explains, “we had no freedom in Hungary. At that time you couldn’t speak free. You couldn’t do nothing free. So when the border opened up in ’56 we got out.” She’s now a proud citizen of the U.S. and a successful business owner.
So how are of these fine meat products made? First, the meat (usually pork) is cleaned and cut up. Then, it is seasoned for two days. Next, it’s ground and mixed. Maria uses a hydraulic stuffer to get the meat into the casings. Finally, mom (Julia Varga) twirls the ends of the casings to make the finished sausage.
The shop makes the blood and liver sausages virtually the same way except, obviously, one uses blood and one has a liver stuffing. They both have pork meat, rice, and onions mixed into them. The result is technically called a pudding because it has the not-firm consistency of pudding inside the casing. According to Watson, “One of the girls here, she wouldn’t touch it [the blood sausage] until we had a little left over. She had a few bites and now she likes it more than the liver.”
Salami is a little different. It’s finely ground and dried. Unlike sausage, salami doesn’t need to be cooked. They have some very unusual and hard to find types like Krakowska (ham) salami and caliente salami, made with habanero chilis.
People come from everywhere to buy their food. Customer Helen Vavich, a sweet, white-haired elderly woman comes from Victorville, sixty miles away and stops at the Sausage Company frequently. “We’re gonna buy some of their homemade sausage,” she announces, “We just tested it and it’s delicious.” Maria tells me people come from as far away as Las Vegas, Arizona, San Diego and even Canada to load up on their unique edibles.
The time has come for me to try a Hungarian sandwich for myself. It has skinless ground sausage, comes on a French roll and tastes extremely fresh and flavorful. It comes garnished with a choice of lettuce, tomato, pickle, onions, mustard and mayonnaise. I ask for everything. My only criticism is that it’s a little skimpy on the meat. Next time I think I’ll try something spicier, like the Italian sausage they keep in the back that’s ten times hotter than the stuff they keep in the deli case out front.
The Valley Hungarian Sausage and Meat Company is for sale. It seems that Watson and Vargas are ready to retire. Watson claims, “A new owner could really take off with it.” I take off with a pound blood sausage for my Swiss friend, Teresa, and a pound of hot boy scout sausage for the road.
Valley Hungarian Sausage and Meat Co.
8809 Pearblossom Hwy. Littlerock, CA 93543
(661) 944-3351 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., 7 days a week
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