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A Little Spanish Deli and How It Grew

January 16, 2002|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

La Espanola Meats is the house that pork built.

Twenty years ago, Juana and Frank Faraone bought a tiny Spanish deli in Lomita. Juana, a native of Valencia, Spain, and an enthusiastic cook, started making Spanish-style sausages. She went back to Spain and traveled around the country swapping recipes with small-town butchers, and her product line expanded. Over the years, Juana and her American-born husband brought their two daughters into the business.

In 1995, La Espanola moved into a USDA-inspected meat-processing plant built to its specifications in nearby Harbor City. In less than two decades it had gone from a local shop taking in $40,000 a year to a $2-million business supplying restaurants and Spanish-food lovers around the country. A lot of that comes from cheeses, wines and other imports, but Spain's love affair with the pig is the foundation.

This is obvious the moment you step into the shop, from the hams hanging in the corner and the big deli counter selling nearly two dozen kinds of sausage, most of them deep crimson with Spanish red pepper (pimenton). You can also find dry-cured pork loin (lomo embuchado), ham hocks (lacon codillo) and even bones (huesos de jamon) for sale.

The meat plant, which occupies most of the building, features specialized Spanish pork-handling equipment. One odd-looking device is a sort of workshop bench jig designed for holding a whole aged ham at any angle you choose for convenience in boning out the meat.

The most impressive item is the computer-controlled meat mixer, which looks like a muscle-bound stainless-steel cement mixer--it can hold 400 pounds of sausage meat. When it's turned on, a lid automatically seals the top so mixing can take place in a partial vacuum, to compact the meat by keeping pockets of air from forming in the mix.

Next to it is the stuffing machine. Just transfer a couple of hundred pounds of sausage meat into it, fit sausage casings over the nozzles and press a button, and the casings start to fill. The sausages are transferred to a work table by hand. "Eventually," jests Alex Motameri, the Faraones' son-in-law, "we'll probably get a machine to do that too."

La Espanola makes two kinds of blood sausage (morcilla), one with rice in it and one flavored with onions. Blood sausage has to be cooked as soon as the casings are filled to solidify it, so the plant has a room-sized industrial oven exclusively for cooking rack upon rack of morcilla.

Some sausages, such as chorizo fresco (a meaty link sausage, not much like the loose-textured Mexican chorizo we're familiar with in Southern California), butifarrita (a mild white sausage like weisswurst) and longaniza (a cousin to Italian hot sausage), go to a cold locker because they're sold fresh. But most are aged, in three aging rooms with elaborate Spanish-built equipment to regulate the temperature, humidity and air movement.

For starters, there are three salami-like aged sausages: Pamplona (pork), cantimpalo (pork and beef, cumin and cayenne) and salchichon de Vich (pork and beef, black pepper). (Cantimpalitos, though, are cocktail-sized sausages with a slightly smoky flavor.)

Most of the sausages called chorizos are aged too, but not as long as the salami type. Chorizo de Bilbao is a cooking sausage flavored with cumin and oregano as well as the usual garlic and pimenton. Chorizo Riojano is a more garlicky cousin, chorizo Vela is a leaner variety, and Juana Faraone describes chorizo Sarta as her bid for the organic market--it contains no artificial preservatives. Then there's chorizo Soria (chunks of pork loin and uncured bacon, like a sort of spicy, unsmoked ham), chorizo blanco (the same without the pimenton) and chorizo Leon (flavored with a smoked pimenton).

Finally, there are two long, skinny aged sausages, chorizo chistorra (flavored with sweet pimenton) and fuet (garlic and nutmeg), and sobrasada Mallorquina, which has an almost spreadable pate-like texture.

And then there's ham. Until recently, the USDA prohibited the importation of jamon serrano, so La Espanola has long cured its own hams and aged them 18 months. The USDA now permits two brands of jamon serrano to be imported (Spain still does not have a USDA-licensed butchering facility, so the pigs are actually raised in Spain and then shipped elsewhere in Europe to be butchered; the hams are returned to Spain for aging), and La Espanola imports one of them, Redondo Iglesias.

On Saturdays, a member of the staff at La Espanola cooks up a big batch of paella in the two-handled pan of the same name (the shop sells paella pans in 11 sizes, all the way from single-serving to one big enough to cook paella for 50). "We started doing this to introduce people to our products," says Juana Faraone.

"But it's become so popular," says Frank, "some people call up and make reservations for it."

*

La Espanola Meats Inc., 25020 Doble Ave., Harbor City. (310) 539-0455 (off West Lomita Boulevard, four blocks east of Normandie Avenue.). Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. You can also order online at www.donajuana .com.

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